Is that Twitter account a bot? Researchers make app to find out
The app looks at public Twitter data to identify phony accounts
IDG News Service - They spread lies. They push products you don't care about. They make unpopular people look popular. Sometimes, they take over your machine with malware.
Twitter's got bots, and researchers are fighting back. At Indiana University in Bloomington, researchers have developed an app, called "Bot or Not," designed to identify accounts on Twitter that are controlled by insidious robots or software.
You can't trust everything you see on Twitter, even when it's posted by actual people. But the researchers' tool was developed as part of a larger effort to raise awareness about how much more easily misinformation can be spread when it's done by bot accounts that feed off each other.
Plenty of bots on Twitter are benign -- they may automatically tweet out links to research papers or product updates.
But then there are the bots that mislead, exploit and manipulate online conversations with rumors, spam, misinformation and slander, researchers say.
"It's political astroturf," said Fil Menczer, an informatics and computer science professor who directs IU's Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research.
Some Twitter accounts may be programmed to post messages with links to fake news stories, and then cyclically repost the links, making them go viral. Others may spread misinformation to hurt a political candidate.
Beyond Twitter messages themselves, "bot accounts comprise a crucial part of misinformation campaigns on Twitter," Menczer said. "We know they exist, but are there millions of them? Tens of millions? Tens of thousands? We're not sure," he said.
The "Bot or Not" app seeks to weed out at least some of the bot accounts. The app, which can be accessed on IU's site, lets users type in any Twitter handle, and its algorithm looks at over 1,100 features to determine how likely it is to be a bot on a 100-point scale. Users must authorize the app to query Twitter on their behalf.
It's all based on public Twitter data from the site's API (application programming interface). Patterns such as length of time between posts, the scope of the account's own follower network -- even the sentiment of the posts -- is all factored in to make a determination.
Some Twitter accounts already deemed to be fakes by the tool? Apparently Justin Bieber attracts bots: @JusBieberPhotos ("the official Justin Bieber photo Twitter account") and @StanBieberfan were called out by the researchers.
The app is very much in beta. Researchers are working to refine its algorithm and figure out which signals are the best to include, results that will likely appear in a future paper.
Their fear is that spammers will adjust accordingly. "It's an arms race," Menczer said. "Bots will get smarter in the process."
- Social Media in Technology: A Unified Strategy for Success Find out how social media is sparking a new era of customer and industry-understanding in technology enterprises and how industry leaders are overcoming...
- Mission Critical: Managing Mobile Applications & Content Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices have become embedded in enterprise processes, thanks to the consumerization of IT and a new generation of...
- Securing Mobility, From Device to Network At one time, the process of managing and securing mobile devices and applications was fairly straightforward. Most organizations worried about one application (email)...
- Planning for Mobile Success Many organizations are seeing clear and quantifiable benefits from the deployment of mobile technologies that provide access to data and applications any time,...
- Keep Servers Up and Running and Attackers in the Dark An SSL/TLS handshake requires at least 10 times more processing power on a server than on the client. SSL renegotiation attacks can readily...
- On Demand: Mastering the Art of Mobile Content Management Mobile device usage in the enterprise has skyrocketed, and it continues to escalate. IT must answer to users who demand access to their... All Social Media White Papers | Webcasts
Our new weekly Consumerization of IT newsletter covers a wide range of trends including BYOD, smartphones, tablets, MDM, cloud, social and what it all means for IT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!