Election 2019: Bots bat for contenders, manipulate Twitter trends

In disturbing news, it appears social media bots are trying to manipulate the outcome of the upcoming general elections. According to a team of researchers and digital media experts from a US think tank, automated twitter bots have made aggressive attempts to boost political hashtags.

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The team from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), automated accounts were deployed on a massive scale on February 9 and 10 this year. A small group of accounts allegedly made thousands of posts every hour! DFRLab says the accounts were domestic in origin. They also discovered that pro-Modi traffic was manipulated far more than anti-Modi traffic.

DFRLabs also studied #GoBackModi that was trending during the same period as #TNwelcomesModi and discovered that even in this case bots were active. While 50,000 tweets studied with the #TNwelcomesModi were posted by just 891 accounts, the score for the 50,000 tweets with the #GoBackModi was 7,394 accounts. The DFRLab uses the Coefficient of Traffic Manipulation (CTM) method to determine hashtag manipulation. A CTM value of less than 12 is common for non-manipulated traffic. While #GoBackModi had a CTM of 47.05, the CTM value for #TNwelcomesModi was a mind-boggling 123.98. 

In a blog post, the researchers wrote, “The incident highlights the sheer scale of attempts to manipulate Twitter traffic as India’s main political parties head to the polls. It also underlines the extent to which social media more broadly has become an electoral battleground.”

In a series of tweets that may be read here, Ben Nimmo, Senior Fellow, Information Defense, at the DFRLab, explained exactly how the bots kept their Twitter game on point. His most significant observation was that the mega tweeters had very few followers, often just in double digits, so the actual reach was not very high. This points to an attempt at massive amplification. Nimmo gave an example of #TNwelcomesModi tweeting, “The traffic on #TNwelcomesModi was crazy. The first 50,000 tweets on February 9 came from just 891 accounts. Of those, the top 50 generated over 30,000 posts in under 8 hours. That’s attempted manipulation on an industrial scale.”




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