A large number of Twitter users are bots, according to research. The research, from two computer science researchers at University College London (UCL), reported by the BBC found there were more than 350,000 bots on a massive ‘Star Wars’ botnet.
The research carried out by graduate student Juan Echeverria, and overseen by UCL senior lecturer Dr Shi Zhou, accidentally uncovered the network while looking at how people use Twitter. Looking at a random sample of one per cent of Twitter users, Echeverria found abnormalities amongst some of the accounts. He found there were lots of linked accounts, all of which had under 11 tweets and only tweeted random, yet incomplete, quotes from at least 11 Star Wars novels.
In addition, the network of bots also had other defining characteristics. These abnormal behaviours included hashtags in front of random words, such as ‘the’ or ‘in’; never retweeting or mentioning other Twitter users; having less than 10 followers; only choosing 'Twitter for Windows Phone' as source of tweets; and tweeting from supposedly uninhabitable locations.
“Social networks are big for many reasons, not just for their intended purposes, they can be used as the new way to measure fame and that can generate revenue for some people,” said Mark James, IT security specialist at ESET commenting on the research. “Bots or automated Twitter accounts could be used to boost someone’s followers, not necessarily by the owner of the original account I must add. Social media is also a very good platform to spread malware.”
“Dodgy links, fake websites and generating likes for malicious reasons are all ways we have seen social media being used. Of course, it’s in Twitter’s interest to keep the numbers legit but with hardware and software available today it’s no surprise there are hundreds of thousands if not more fake or dummy accounts being used for the wrong reasons.”