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Roughly half of the Twitter accounts pushing to 'reopen America' are bots, researchers found

  • There's been a surge in bot activity around online discussions of reopening America after COVID-19 shutdowns in the past month, according to a new report.

  • Carnegie Melion researches analysed over 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 and found that roughly half are likely bots.

  • Researches identify bots by looking for accounts that tweet more frequently than humanly possible, or whose location appears to rapidly switch between different countries.

  • It's not yet clear who's behind the surge in bot activity, or whether they're originating from the US or board.

As the US begins to lift shutdowns orders amid the covid-19 pandemic, there's been a fierce argument online over the risks and benefits of reopening. New research suggests that bots have been dominating that debate.

Carnegie Melion University researches analyzed over 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 and related issues since January. Roughly half of the accounts discussing the virus-including 62% of the 1,000 accounts with the most influence-appear to be bots, the researches said in a new report published this week.

That's far higher level of bot activity than usual, even when it comes to contentious public events. By contrast, the level of bot involvement in discussions of public events like US elections or natural disasters is typically 10% to 20%.

"Tweeting more frequently than is humanly possible or appearing to be in one country and then another a few hours later is indicative of a bot," computer science professor and research lead Kathleen Carley said in a release. "When we see a whole bunch of tweets at the same time or back to back, It's like they're times...We also look for use of the same exact hashtag, or messaging that appear to be coped and posted form one bot to the next."

Among tweets explicitly discussing"reopen America," researches found that 66% of tweets came from accounts that are possibly humans using bot assistants to spread their tweets more widely, While 34% of tweets came from bots themselves.

There are a few possible explanations for the surge in bot activity-people may have more time to set up elaborate bot networks amid the shutdown, and the availability of botnets-for-hire has exploded recently. Carley also notes that the global nature of the pandemic means there are countries and interest groups across the world with clear political agendas.

"Even if someone appears to be from your community, if you don't know them personally, take a closer look, and always fo to authoritative or trusted sources for information, Carley said."Just be very vigilant."



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