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Researchers Discover Massive Networks of Fake Twitter Accounts (bbc.com) 91

mi writes: Turns out, there are researchers studying ways to identify bots on Twitter -- fake accounts used by individuals or groups for various purposes. They identified, what seems like a collection of 350,000 accounts, all of which share the same subtle characteristics: tweets coming from places where nobody lives; messages being posted only from Windows phones; exclusively including quotes from Star Wars novels. "Considering all the efforts already there in detecting bots, it is amazing that we can still find so many bots, much more than previous research," Dr Zhou, a senior lecturer from UCL, told the BBC. Juan Echeverria uncovered the massive networks by combing through a sample of 1% of Twitter users in order to get a better understanding of how people use the social network. He is now asking the public via a website and a Twitter account to report bots to get a better idea of how prevalent they are. Some bots are easy to spot as they likely have been created recently, have few followers, have strange usernames and little content in the messages.
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Researchers Discover Massive Networks of Fake Twitter Accounts

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  • by magarity ( 164372 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @08:08PM (#53731803)

    have few followers, have strange usernames and little content in the messages

    So why bother setting it up? How does one monetize a twitterbot swarm of strange names with banal content?

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      Because sheeple see some celebrity has 50,000 followers, so they need to follow too.
      • I follow two accounts, one is on the topic of Linux and the other is the topic of SDR Radios, and have nobody following me and i dont have a single tweat, i am a 100% lurker
        • by Anonymous Coward

          You may not have a tweek but you certainly have a twat

        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          I'm guessing that your name isn't Chad.

        • Not to be personal mind you, but why not use RSS feeds instead? I realize Twitter made it much easier than before, but here we're on /. and all. But seriously, I wonder why more people don't use RSS to monitor twitter feeds like the %$#@! POTUS, rather than 'subscribing' and somewhat identifying themselves; ...not to mention since I started with a good example, many of the citizenry have been actively blocked by the twitter-account-holder directly?
          • there are a few twitter accounts i bookmarked but i have not followed them because i want to visit them at my leisure
        • I follow no accounts, on no topics - nor do I have a single tweet. Nor do I have an account. In fact, I don't even get the point of twitter. Insert twit joke.

        • by radl33t ( 900691 )
          I have a 8 year old twitter account with about 3 tweets. The platform is honestly not for me. It does not facilitate rational engagement. At its very best, it is a notification service.
    • Twitter and Facebook played a yuge (pun) role in the last US Presidential elections. It'd be silly to ignore the effectiveness of large social networks in various kinds of propaganda. I'm sure that wasn't lost on anyone last year...
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yea, Trump got elected because of all those Star Wars quotes.

        It's kind of pathetic how everything these days gets turned into a stab at Trump. The term paranoid raving lunatics comes to mind.

        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          One can only hope that they'll eventually get over the butt hurt affront to their SJW psyche and move on with their lives. It was funny for a couple of days, but now it's just tiresome.

          • Its all Obamas fault anyway. If he hadn't been so spineless he would have declared the Russian infiltration of US politics an act of war and voided the election.

      • Wasn't Obama largely elected on Twitter as well? I seem to remember that he was considered hip because he used Twitter. I find it funny that demographically the same people are complaining about Trump now. (I realize that not literally the same people are complaining, it is just shorthand...)

    • 1/3 spammer army, 1/3 in the hands of botnet operators to be sold off for use in trolling/harassment/activism campaigns, 1/3 Twitter inflating user numbers to get that sweet, sweet money.

      Social media - 50% of the accounts are bots, but 100% of the users are fake.

      • In all seriousness, I'd be surprised if the real number was below 80% for twitter. Most of the investors/shareholders - the ones who aren't actually involved in orchestrating the bots themselves that is - would be grabbing their torches and pitchforks if they knew.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @08:21PM (#53731879) Journal
      Imagine this: You have 350000 twitter-bots at your command. For the right price you can be hired to flood Twitter with whatever message you want.
      It's a social engineering tool. People are gullible. Regardless of the 'strange usernames' or any enigmatic content they're tweeting otherwise, if the average Twitter user sees 350000 retweets of a particular message, they're going to believe it's a Real Thing, and they'll probably retweet it themselves, giving it even more momentum and credibility. Instant viral content.
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

        Imagine this: You have 350000 twitter-bots at your command. For the right price you can be hired to flood Twitter with whatever message you want.

        #MAGA

      • This also helps to explain things: https://www.kcrw.com/news-cult... [kcrw.com]
      • by rgmoore ( 133276 )

        For the right price you can be hired to flood Twitter with whatever message you want.

        Except that's of limited utility. A twitter feed only contains tweets by (or retweeted by) people the user is following, so tweeting by a bunch of bots with no followers won't flood the feeds of anyone else. You could use something like that to get a topic trending, but most people would ignore it once they realize it's just a bunch of bots tweeting the same message.

        It's much more likely to be an army of followers for h

      • And those 35,000 twitter-bots spam a message to all the other twitter bots, fake accounts, and the occasional IRL tardface who owns a twitter account.

        I still don't see the point.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Politicians and celebrities like their accounts to reflect their standing in the community or fans taking an interest in new projects.
      If the politicians and celebrities are boring or their projects fail, happy people can be found online to create interest and keep the numbers up.
  • by FudRucker ( 866063 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @08:15PM (#53731843)
    they post clickbait in the top trending tweats, i like to read through the top trending tweats and after a while i have learned to recognize them and i will report them, they usually use a cropped photo that links to their clickbait websites instead of just opening to show the full photo
  • "Take the secret plane to the island. It's already loaded with the gold. MOVE!!"

  • And I'll bet you thought Russia was doing this with real accounts?

  • It's a vanity thing, but I want to "command" a bunch of fake followers to drive fake news and generally screw with certain people. I'm not willing to pay much for the privilege but it would be fun for about 2 days and then I go back not giving a F about twitter. So, yeah, it's best to just rent.
  • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:07PM (#53732071)

    I can't imagine how they make that work with so few of the actual devices in use.

    • emulation on a VM farm.

    • Chances are that they aren't even using one Windows Phone - just spoofing the browser ident string from a cluster of virtual servers running PHP scripts. But I guarantee that somewhere, someone is using these numbers to boost Windows Phone's reported popularity to existing/potential investors and app developers.

    • by beckett ( 27524 )
      In other news, Installed smartphone marketshare of Windows Phone software dropped to "Steve Balmer Only"
  • So if they found 350,000 fake accounts, why doesn't Twitter remove or deactivate them? Why in the world would you want to keep them?

    • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

      Twitter is a social app.
      The value of the platform is directly tied to how many users they supposedly have for advertising/data-mining purposes.

  • Down to the 71 actual humans who follow it.
  • "messages being posted only from Windows phones"

    Both of them?

  • Well, at least Twitter keeps sending me validation requests for one or more fake Twitter accounts that I never created and have no interest in validating. The header of the email indicates that most of them are coming from a slightly mangled form of my email address that is used by spammers. I don't know what the scam is, but it's been going on for many months, perhaps even a couple of years now, so they must be making money somehow.

    Tried to report it to Twitter and the google a couple of times, especially

  • ". Some bots are easy to spot as they likely have been created recently, have few followers, have strange usernames and little content in the messages."

    I am a bot, and I did not even know, the horror...
  • Just another example of someone making something good and another person comes in and wrecks it.
    • Some things we'll never have a shortage of are: Jerks, *ssholes, people who push you around, people who enjoy making you miserable.
  • by Hylandr ( 813770 )

    tweets coming from places where nobody lives; messages being posted only from Windows phones; exclusively including quotes from Star Wars novels.

    So, Windows Developers...

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