#FakeNews Getting Real: SocialBots Swamping ProPublica

In a time when society is drowning in tsunamis of misinformation, it is possible to change the world for the better if we repeat the truth often and loud enough.
— Alberto Cairo, The Truthful Art: Data, Charts, and Maps for Communication

 

Occasionally some maps unfold with the immediate burning question, “what’s going on here?” That’s exactly what happened Friday (Aug. 25) around 10:00am (PST) when the hashtag #FakeNews looked like this —

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The top right cluster of tightly packed profiles called for attention. All the profiles lighting-up as Bots was the hook. At first glance we looked at the four profiles (@Apple stands out) getting most of their attention.

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We then noted the #FakeNews tweets:

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Seeing this onslaught directed at ProPublica, their journalists and Open Society Foundations, there’s little doubt what’s afoot. With over 12,500 plus re-tweets in barely four hours it’s apparent those behind this campaign were on a mission of flooding the hashtag. The originator of the tweet leaves little doubt how this serves as an example of a computational misinformation campaign in action.

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Like a “release the Kraken” moment this is a significant SocialBot propelled initiative. Of the few hundred profiles we connected to this tweet and verified as Bots, they all have essentially the identical “personalities”.

  • They all have joined Twitter in June, July or August 2017.
  • They’re all noise, but no audience to hear it. Each profile in many cases is following no one, nor had any followers.
  • Their feeds are almost identical tweet for tweet.

ProPublica - #fakenews & #HateGroup funded by @OpenSociety Main presstitutes: @lkirchner @thejefflarson @JuliaAngwin @iarnsdorf @ericuman — @yoiyakujimin

From our relatively small sample size, we were not able to document any real profiles among the re-tweeters.

Visually connecting a network non-human agents working in such orchestrated fashion is like seeing one small swamp in the overall ecosystem of fake at work. This massively deliberate attempt to erode the public trust in journalism, and in each other is a poison. It’s also a sobering reminder that communication technologies envisioned for good, are of equal utility to those of ill-intent.

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