New research has illustrated the role of bots in spreading misinformation about COVID-19 online.
A Carnegie Mellon University study revealed that of 200 million tweets posted since January discussing the virus, some 45 per cent were found to have originated from accounts likely to be bots.
Accounts that tweet more than is humanly possible or that claim to be in multiple countries within a few hours were flagged as potential bots.
“We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that,” said Carnegie Mellon University professor of computer science Kathleen Carley.
“We’re seeing up to two times as much bot activity as we’d predicted based on previous natural disasters, crises and elections,” Carley said.
These fake tweets were often found to be spreading false narratives, such as conspiracy theories about hospitals being filled with mannequins and tweets linking the virus with the development of 5G towers.
Twitter has since responded to the research, suggesting the term ‘bot’ may have been used liberally.
“People often refer to bots when describing everything from automated account activity to individuals who would prefer to be anonymous for personal or safety reasons, or avoid a photo because they’ve got strong privacy concerns,” a Twitter spokesman told NPR.
“[Such accounts may be used by] those in positions of political power to tarnish the views of people who may disagree with them or online public opinion that’s not favorable.”
The spokesperson did confirm it had removed thousands of tweets containing potential misinformation about the virus.