Indiana News

Man or Machine? IU Researchers Study Social Media Bots



Those seemingly random favorites or likes on your Twitter or Facebook page may be coming not from friends and followers at all, but from computer programs.


Spambots have frustrated Internet users for years. But as social media has mushroomed, bots have evolved into Twitterbots -- programs which can pose as real people on social media. IU Informatics Professor Fil Menczer explains spammers and scammers may use bots to get you to click on their websites. And political campaigns have used bots to spread attacks on opponents.

Menczer founded IU's Truthy project, named in honor of Stephen Colbert's term for something that has the appearance of being true. Researchers are working on refining the ability to detect bots. Menczer says Twitter and other sites have worked to police their members, but it's a cyber "arms race," with successful detection methods met with more sophisticated ways of escaping detection.

Some bots don't send you a tweet, but favorite or retweet yours. Menczer admits it's not entirely clear what those bots hope to gain, since that doesn't drive traffic to their sites. He speculates it's an attempt to build their own follower counts to make them look more like real people and give their own tweets more credibility.

Menczer says it's also unclear how successful bots are at fooling people, since their owners have an interest in maintaining their cover.


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