Botcheck.me offers tools to help Twitter users determine whether they are dealing with real people or automated bots. Twitter
Botcheck.me offers tools to help Twitter users determine whether they are dealing with real people or automated bots. Twitter

National

Are you arguing with a person or a bot on social media? This site will tell you

By Don Sweeney

dsweeney@sacbee.com

November 08, 2017 01:11 PM

Bots now account for half of all traffic on the internet.

Bots can be good or bad, according to Axios. Good bots, for example, help make searches more accurate. But bad bots, used to spread fake news and propaganda through spoof accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Google, make up roughly 29 percent of internet traffic. (All bots are software applications that run automated tasks.)

Disinformation spread by bots, many of them from Russia, has been cited as a major factor in the 2016 presidential election. Often a bot will post a fake news story on social media, then other bots will add likes, shares and comments to push the propaganda to viral status, Axios reported.

How do you know whether you’re getting your online news from real people or an army of bots? Two computer science students at the University of California, Berkeley, say they have the answer.

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Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte, co-founders of RoBhat Labs, created botcheck.me, a site where people can enter a Twitter account name and receive a one-sentence analysis of whether it matches patterns shown by propaganda bots.

For example, an analysis of President Donald Trump’s Twitter account returns this report: “Our model finds that @realdonaldtrump does not exhibit patterns conducive to a political bot or highly automated patterns tweeting political propaganda.”

The roommates told KTVU they initially became alarmed at the prevalence of bots on social media during the election. They spent eight weeks programming the site to help other users identify online propaganda. Twitter users also can install an app on their account that will allow them to instantly determine the potential veracity – or at least humanity – of a poster.

“It’s a bigger rat’s nest that we thought it was,” Phatede told KTVU.

Phatde and Bhat told Wired they have contacted Twitter, which faces pressure to crack down on bots, about their software but have received no response.

Bots make up more than half of all internet traffic and are seamlessly integrated into our everyday lives, here's how they work.

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