The Meeting Place

How do you spot a Russian bot?

A team of researchers has isolated the characteristics of bots on Twitter through an examination of bot activity related to Russian political discussions.

Its findings, reported in the journal Big Data, provide new insights into how Russian accounts influence online exchanges using bots, or automated social media accounts, and trolls, which aim to provoke or disrupt.     

“There is a great deal of interest in understanding how regimes and political actors use bots in order to influence politics,” explains NYU Professor Joshua Tucker, director of the Jordan Centre for the Advanced Study of Russia and one of the paper’s co-authors.

“Russia has been at the forefront of trying to shape the online conversation using tools like bots and trolls, so a first step to understanding what Russian bots are doing is to be able to identify them.”

The findings reveal some notable differences between human and automated posts - but also several similarities, which may stymie bot detection.

“Bots are much more likely to use online platforms while humans frequently use mobile devices,” notes co-author Denis Stukal, a doctoral candidate in NYU’s Department of Politics.

“However, humans and bots are not dramatically different from each other on a number of other features that characterise their tweeting activity - similarities that reveal a relatively high level of bot sophistication.”

Other patterns revealed how bots differ from human posts. The researchers found the following:

  • Human tweets are more likely to be geo-located.
  • Bots retweet more often than humans do.
  • The most common type of bot is one that tweets news headlines without links to the original source of news.

 

“This suggests that an important strategy in the use of bots for the purposes of propaganda might be to promote specific news stories and news media in the rankings of search engines.”

Are you worried about Russian social media bots disrupting Australian elections?

5 comments

Ben,

Thank you for this.  Absolutely fascinating.

I think any important headline or news release should always provide source/s and if possible primary sources.

People like to check for themselves and also, sometimes what a journalist may write can also be influenced by bias ... or differing interpretations.

People are becoming more sophisticated and primary sources read within context are always best for information on important issues.

It was interesting reading the examination of the Twitter rep. When asked how they identified a "Russian", his reply was anyone who had EVER had a phone number or email account in Russia (how does Twitter know?) or had EVER sent an email/Tweet etc from/based in Russia! This instantly made millions of tourists, businessmen and the reporter covering the story "Russian", and it turns out at least 25% of Twitters "Russian" figures turn out to be.......... non Russian. While the anaylisis of the "influence" is indeed fascinating, the part I loved the most was the righteous indignation of a country that has been bugging phones and emails of their "Allies" for years, wonderful.

Good comment Jules!!  And besides if you use a VPN you can pretend you are in Russia.  I was in Russia this year and posted some stuff critical of the US.  But I'm not Russian, mother and father were Anglos 

I am noticing this behaviour on social media sites where people like on this one make political comment.

I don't think it is Russian bots however I do think there is a significant group of people who delierately ask a question or make a "news" comment so that another set of (organised) people can make positive or negative comments about the situation to give a false bias to a political view point or product review.

Interesting ...I asked Google

What is a bot? An Internet bot, also known as web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone.

5 comments