Researchers: Almost Half of Accounts Tweeting About Coronavirus Are Bots

Twitter Chairman and Square CEO Jack Dorsey moderates a panel discussion with Detroit entrepreneurs at Techonomy Detroit at Wayne State University September 17, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. The topic of the discussion was 'Turbocharging Detroit's Teconomy.' (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
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A recent report from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University claims that nearly half of the Twitter accounts tweeting about the Chinese virus are likely bots.

NPR reports that a recent study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University claims that it is likely that half of the Twitter accounts discussing the Wuhan coronavirus are bots, the common name for automated accounts that interact with and attempt to mimic normal human users. Researchers examined more than 200 million tweets discussing the virus since January and found that about 45 percent were sent by accounts that act more like an automated program than humans.

The researchers stated that it is too early to determine who is controlling the bot accounts but that tweets from the accounts appeared to be aiming to sow division amongst Americans. Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University who is one of the authors of a study analyzing bot-generated coronavirus activity on Twitter, stated: “We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that.”

Researchers identified over 100 false narratives about the virus being pushed by bots across Twitter, including theories that hospitals were filled with mannequins or that 5G cell signal towers were the source of the virus. “We’re seeing up to two times as much bot activity as we’d predicted based on previous natural disasters, crises and elections,” Carley said.

Researchers flagged accounts that tweet more than is humanly possible or claim to be in multiple countries within a few hours period as possible bots. “When we see a whole bunch of tweets at the same time or back to back, it’s like they’re timed,” Carley said. “We also look for use of the same exact hashtag, or messaging that appears to be copied and pasted from one bot to the next.”

Breitbart News reported this week that the Chinese government has launched a massive Twitter information campaign, more than doubling the number of official government tweets since January and in recent days attempting to spread a conspiracy theory that the Wuhan coronavirus came from a U.S. government lab.

On May 8, the spokesperson for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry posted a sweet that has been liked more than 4,000 times which reads: “The #US keeps calling for transparency & investigation. Why not open up Fort Detrick & other bio-labs for international review? Why not invite #WHO & int’l experts to the US to look into #COVI19 source & response?”

Chinese accounts have published more than 90,000 tweets since the beginning of April from 200 diplomatic and state-run media accounts in a massive Wuhan coronavirus information war according to a study of data collected by the Hamilton 2.0 dashboard of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a tool aggregating accounts connected to the Chinese government.

Analysis by Bret Schafer, the digital disinformation fellow at the alliance, based in Washington, D.C., found that Twitter output from China’s official sites has almost doubled since January and the number of diplomatic Twitter accounts has tripled to 135 from 40 accounts at this time las year.

Schafer stated that the Chinese accounts “have become more aggressive, more conspiratorial, and the ones who have done that are their most popular accounts and have by far the most engagement.”

Schafer said that the Twitter account for the Chinese Embassy in France “has significantly more followers than the embassy in Poland, for example, because the embassy in France has been a driver of the most aggressive content.”

Read more at Breitbart News here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com

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