UK researchers have recently found massive networks of fake Twitter accounts with the largest consisting of over 350,000 profiles, suggesting one person or group might be running them. It was reported that some of the accounts have been used to fake follower numbers, boost interest in trending topics and send spam.
Bots are accounts that are controlled remotely by someone who automates messages they send and activities they carry out. Most people pay to get bots follow their own accounts or to dilute chatter about controversial subjects.
A computer scientist at UCL, Juan Echeverria who unveiled the massive networks said, "It is difficult to assess exactly how many Twitter users are bots." His research started by combining through a sample of 1 percent of Twitter users in order to get a much better understanding of how people use the giant social network.
But the data showed that a lot of linked profiles, suggesting one person or group are running the botnet. That means that the accounts didn't act like bots as what the researchers had found but were clearly not being run by humans.
Researchers are now asking the public through a website and a Twitter account to report if they spot any bot actions to help get a better understanding of how common they are. The majority of the bots are obvious because these bots have been newly created, have few followers, have strange user names and very little content in the messages.
These networks of 350,000 bots were discovered because all the accounts in it shared subtle characteristics that showed they were linked. It includes tweets coming from different places where nobody lives, messages posted only from Windows devices, and almost exclusively including quotes from the Star Wars novels.
Shi Zhou, a senior lecturer from UCL said that it was amazing and surprising to discover the massive networks. Zhou added, "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."
According to some reports, a Twitter spokesperson said that the social network had a clear policy on automation that was strictly enforced. Users were blocked from writing programs that automatically followed or unfollowed accounts or which favorited tweets in bulk.