Battling Bad Bots: UNM researchers work to keep Twitter real

FILE - This Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, file photo, shows a Twitter app on an iPhone screen, in New York. Twitter is giving users more room to express themselves. Photos, videos and other media won’t count toward Twitter’s 140-character limit in the coming months, giving users more space to write tweets, the company announced Tuesday, May 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
FILE - This Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, file photo, shows a Twitter app on an iPhone screen, in New York. Twitter is giving users more room to express themselves. Photos, videos and other media won’t count toward Twitter’s 140-character limit in the coming months, giving users more space to write tweets, the company announced Tuesday, May 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – We all know you can’t trust everything you see online, but researchers at the University of New Mexico are trying to do their small part to change that, at least when it comes to Twitter.

They are using technology to detect Twitter “bots.”

“They are mimicking human beings to have sleep time, rest time, lunch time and so on. So this was a fascinating discovery,” said Abdullah Mueen, an assistant professor in UNM’s Department of Computer Science.

An army of bots can influence what’s trending on Twitter, spread bogus news stories or try to sway public opinion, in politics for example.

Mueen and his group of UNM researchers have found 700,000 bots since last year with new technology that detects them quicker, which is helpful because the problem is growing by the day.

“The rate Twitter is suspending the bots is lower than the rate that the bots are growing, so if this continues then the trajectory shows that at some point there can be Twitter bots than human beings,” Mueen said.

While most people trying to detect them look for accounts spreading spam or malware, UNM researchers find them by looking for different accounts that are all posting the same thing at the same time.

“They do change their username frequently,” Mueen said. “That’s something they do to hide themselves from being suspended.”

Eventually he hopes, not just to detect them, but to prevent them.

Of course, not all Twitter bots are bad.

Sometimes news or sports sites use them to automatically update Twitter feeds to get information out more efficiently.

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