Nearly half of all Twitter posts and messages spreading conspiracies about the coronavirus and calling for an end to the lockdown are automated accounts known as bots, it has been claimed.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Informed Democracy and Social Cybersecurity estimate that between 45 and 60 per cent of accounts on Twitter promoting misinformation related to COVID-19 were bots.
The findings are a result of a study that analyzed some 200 million coronavirus-related tweets since January.
The analysts found that of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82 per cent are bots.
Of the top 1,000 retweeters, 62 per cent are bots.
The researchers looked for specific markers that usually identify bots.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say there is an orchestrated online campaign to spread disinformation related to COVID-19. The image above shows protesters demanding California lift stay-at-home orders during a demonstration in Sacramento on Saturday
Normally, bot accounts tweet and retweet several posts in a short time period. They also tend to copy and paste text from other tweets.
‘We're seeing up to two times as much bot activity as we'd predicted based on previous natural disasters, crises and elections,’ said Kathleen Carley, a professor in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science.
Carley said that the COVID-19 pandemic has given people more time on their hands to create do-it-yourself bots.
She also said that there is a greater number of sophisticated groups that hire firms to run bot accounts.
‘Because it’s global, it’s being used by various countries and interest groups as an opportunity to meet political agendas,’ she said.
One of those agendas, according to Carley, is to sow dissension by escalating the online debate over lifting lockdown restrictions.
She said there has been an orchestrated effort to flood social media with demands to reopen the economy.
Carley said that researchers found at least 34 per cent of the tweets that fuel talk of reopening are bots.
When factoring in real-life human accounts that have bot assistants, the percentage of ‘reopen’ tweets is 66 per