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Twitter is home to massive fake accounts, says research

/ 04:40 PM January 25, 2017
37181950 - kiev, ukraine - january 16, 2015: hand holds twitter logotype bird printed on paper. twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short messages.

Twitter logo. File photo

Social network giant Facebook has been heavily criticized for its role on disseminating fake stories, but it seems like its counterpart, Twitter, is also experiencing a similar dilemma.

READ: Facebook partners with fact-checkers to eradicate fake news

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A recent study done by researchers from the United Kingdom suggests that out of its 320 million users, there are more than 350,000 fake accounts lying dormant on Twitter’s platform.

Most of these accounts, which was accidentally unraveled by the researchers, have been used to fake follower numbers, send spam and boost interest in trending topics, a BBC report said.

Among the majority of these fake users were classified as bots, which are computer-generated accounts that could carry out activities much like a normal user does. Such tasks include the spreading of automated topics, which more often than not, delve into controversial issues, including politics and religion.

Juan Echeverria, a graduate student and computer scientist at the University College of London (UCL) stumbled upon the problem by combing through a sample of 1 percent of Twitter users, so he could understand how most people use the platform.

But in doing so, his team discovered lots of linked accounts, which was presumed to be run by a “botnet”, or a number of networks which coordinate actions through common and control (C&C) method.

Unlike most bots who produce automated messages in single accounts, this massive network appears to be controlled by an entire organization.

“It is difficult to assess exactly how many Twitter users are bots,” Echeverria was quoted as saying in the report.

Furthermore, these bots remained undetected in the past because they reportedly acted differently than most of the automated accounts that have been identified in the past.

Previously, bots were classified through a number of obvious factors, like if the accounts were created recently, if the accounts have few followers, possess strange user names, and have minimal content and variety in their tweets.

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However, the recent linked networks were discovered to unusual trends including: tweets coming from places where nobody lives, messages being posted only from Windows phones, and almost exclusively including quotes from Star Wars novels.

Meanwhile, a senior lecturer from UCL, Dr. Shi Zhou, described these findings on fake accounts as “amazing and surprising.”

“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,” the professor told BBC.

“What is really surprising is our questioning on the whole effort of bot detection in the past years,” he said. “Suddenly, we feel vulnerable and don’t know much: how many more are there? What do they want to do?”

For its part, Twitter has done its fair share of eliminating bots from its system in the past.

One Twitter spokesperson clarified that their policy on automation was still “strictly enforced,” but also admitted that they still need full cooperation from users to make it 100 percent bot-free.

“While we have systems and tools to detect spam on Twitter, we also rely on our users to report spamming.” Khristian Ibarrola

TOPICS: botnets, bots, Facebook, fake accounts, fake news, Juan Echeverria, Twitter, University College of London
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