How much do you believe in your friends? Can you tell if a friend is fake or real? Sometimes you can, but most of the times, these fake friends can disguise themselves well and are mistaken for real friends. Similarly, social bots are the fake friends on Twitter. These accounts are not operated by actual people but are automated softwares.
Onur Varol, a post-doctoral researcher at Northeastern University’s Network Science Institute, says that a single person can be a master of an army of thousands of bots. Varol has been doing his research on the functioning of bots and he has also received his doctorate from the Indiana University. His experience tells him that just by looking at a Twitter account one can identify whether or not it is a bot. There are a few characteristics to identify one. He says that if an account follows a large number of people with very few following it back and if its tweets are simple, repetitive and primarily focused on one topic, the account is mostly a bot. And the most important highlight as Varol says, “The simpler versions of the social bots can’t argue intelligibly with people on social media, giving clear answers or making arguments”.
The ‘bot army master’ can employ many tricks which can deviate the attention of social media to an entirely new topic with one tweak of algorithm. And this is the very reason why people are attentive to fake news. Because, when one thing is created and talked about in a lot of accounts, we begin to consider it a reality.
Though identifying a bot is difficult, Twitter worked together to identify 20,000 bot accounts and closed all of them in one day. Varol and his colleagues have also created a detection system called the Botometer. Once you plug in the Twitter handle, you get the rating by which you decide whether the account is a bot or not. This initiative of Varol will help in identifying fake accounts and shutting them down.