Researchers: 1 in 3 accounts tweeting about BLM protests are ‘guaranteed to be bots’

Several hundred new accounts and thousands of new tweets representing a surge in inauthentic social media activity have sprung up around the Black Lives Matter protests happening around the U.S. Specifically, 30%-49% of people tweeting about the protests might be bots at any given time, according to research by Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Over the last five days of May, Carley said, she saw 625,375 tweets and 413,900 users that qualified as suspected inauthentic activity.

“About 30% of those tweets are guaranteed to be bots,” Carley told Digital Trends. “There’s another bunch that appear to be bot-like.”

Carley also noted that the bots seemed to be spreading different narratives than the humans were — for instance, talking about and pretending to be part of the Antifa movement. “We’re seeing the bots bring up the Hong Kong protests where humans won’t,” she told Digital Trends. “And more of the bots will mention things related to Trump or to different politicians than humans will.”

The bot-tracking site Bot Sentinel also found “an uptick in inauthentic activity by accounts that were already active and also new accounts created over the past several days,” founder and CEO Christopher Bouzy told Digital Trends in an email. Most of the accounts were promoting disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories, including such false assertions that billionaire George Soros was funding the protests and that the killing of George Floyd — whose death at the hands of a police officer sparked the protests — was a hoax.

“Disinformation is spread on both sides of the political spectrum, but regarding the protests, it is overwhelmingly one-sided and targeted toward Trump supporters and Conservatives,” Bouzy wrote.

Oumou Ly, a staff fellow at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center, noted that most of the disinformation seems to be coming from the far-right. “The online information environment is very asymmetric,” she told Digital Trends. “The right participates more often and in a more sustained way in spreading disinformation because they have more to gain politically from it. It’s part of their political strategy.”

One particularly nefarious piece of disinformation was coming from the so-called Boogaloo movement, a far-right term for inciting a race war or second civil war in the U.S. Mutale Nkonde, a non-resident fellow at Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Lab and a fellow at Berkman Klein, said she had heard from some police sources that police were seizing weapon stashes from people who associated with the Boogaloos. “They’ve been getting more active,” Nkonde said. “If I were doing a social network analysis, I’d say what weaves them [the far-right tweets] together is Boogaloo. They’re very mad at Black people.”

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