Bots, not humans, tweet majority of links to popular websites, research says

It’s no secret that Twitter is largely populated by bots, automated programs that often act under the guise of being an actual human, but new findings out of the Pew Research Center helps quantify their activity.

Bots account for two-thirds of tweets that link to popular websites, according to the report, and have a tendency to share adult content, sports, and news with particular vigor.

The report comes after many months of revelations into the role bots have played in spreading fake news across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, potentially influencing votes from the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum to the 2016 United States presidential election. In November, Twitter updated its policy on bots to limit them to sharing “helpful information” and running “creative campaigns.”

Not all bots are inherently bad. Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa have been given intimate access to our everyday lives, helping many of us manage the chaos of the 21st century. Across social media, some bots send out emergency alerts in the wake of natural disasters, while others help keep bands and brands in contact with their fans.

But many bots are created specifically to spam, troll, and mislead readers with sensational and falsified information.

In their study, the Pew researchers took a random sampling of 1.2 million English-language tweets during a month and a half in the summer of 2017. Their goal was to find out how many of these links were shared by bots, and what topics the bots seemed to focus on.

Using a computer program to track each tweet to its destination, they saved those websites to a database, and selected the nearly 3,000 most common websites. They then counted how many of these tweets derived from bots, a process that meant classifying more than a million tweets and determining which accounts were automated (something many bot accounts don’t openly confess).

To make their job easier, the researchers used Botometer, a machine-learning algorithm that uses more than a thousand bits of information from a given account to make a decision on whether or not the account is a bot. Botometer takes into consideration factors like content, who the account follows, and how long the account has existed. Rather than give a flat-out score of yes or no, the program offers a score between zero and one, which researchers then use to inform their own decision on whether an account is a bot or not.

In the end, the Pew researchers determined that 66 percent of links to popular websites originated from bots. By breaking these links down by topic, they determined that 90 percent of adult content links, 76 percent of sports links, and 66 percent of news links derived from bots.

While these findings may seem intimidating, the Pew team notes that they have yet to answer some key questions. For example, they don’t know how truthful the information shared is nor how humans have interacted with this content. Either way, the report supports the idea that, if you click a link on Twitter, it probably came from a bot.

Features

Has Columbus, Ohio raised its IQ yet? A progress report from the mayor

Two years ago, the city of Columbus in Ohio received $40 million to pursue smart city initiatives. So, what’s happened since then? We spoke with its mayor, Andrew Ginther, to discuss progress and what’s ahead.
Mobile

Need to record calls on an iPhone? Check out our handy guide

Are you wondering how to record calls on your iPhone? It isn't as easy as you might think, but we'll walk you through the process of doing so with Google Voice, and identify several other apps and external voice recorders that can help.
Mobile

5G’s arrival is transforming tech. Here’s everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Gaming

How you can share your best gaming moments with friends on the PS4

Check out Digital Trends' quick guide to everything you need to know to save your outstanding PlayStation 4 gameplay moments, share them online, and transfer them to your computer.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.
Emerging Tech

This unusual nature-inspired robot is equally at home on land or in the water

This intriguing, nature-inspired robot may look unusual, but it's impressively capable of moving on both land and water without problem. Heck, it can even travel on ice if necessary.
Emerging Tech

This cryptocurrency wallet for kids isn’t nearly as stupid as it sounds

So you’ve taught your 6-year-old child to read, write, and play nice with others. What’s next? Give them a base understanding of cryptocurrency, of course. This Kickstarter aims to help.
Emerging Tech

Light, speed: Lighting kit for DJI Mavic 2 lets you fly and film in the dark

Lume Cube, maker of small battery-powered LED lights for mobile photography, has announced a new lighting kit built specifically for the DJI Mavic 2 -- the first of its kind. Already our favorite drone, this makes the Mavic 2 even better.
Emerging Tech

Prepare for liftoff: Here are all the important upcoming SpaceX rocket launches

From ISS resupply missions to a host of communication and scientific satellite launches, SpaceX has a busy year ahead. Here's a rundown of some of the company's most important missions slated for the next year.
Emerging Tech

Virgin Galactic’s latest test flight takes it to the edge of space

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has successfully carried out its fourth powered flight in Mojave, California. It was the company's most ambitious test flight yet -- and bodes well for the future.
Emerging Tech

We’re going to the Red Planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars

SpaceX isn't the only organization pining to visit the Red Planet. Here's a detailed list of all operational and planned missions to Mars, along with explanations of their objectives, spacecraft details, and mission proposals.
Emerging Tech

There’s a giant EMP blaster in New Mexico. Don’t worry, it’s here to protect us

An electromagnetic pulse has the potential to disable virtually all electronics within a large area. To help protect against such a threat is a new, friendly EMP emitter. Here's how it works.