Most of us working in the world of SEO must have considered the misuse of Twitter and other such social media sites.
It has been revealed, and to no great surprise that certain people have been abusing Twitter to fake support for grass-roots political movements. Researchers from Indiana University used data-mining and network-analysis methods to whittle out the guilty parties. The team from Indiana found evidence that political campaigns and special-interest groups have been abusing Twitter by creating fake Twitter accounts to build false expressions of broad grass-roots political feeling.
Using fake Twitter accounts to sell products, services and political campaigns must be very common because it so easy to do. One of the chief investigators from the research project (known as the Truthy project) states ‘we think this technique must be common…Wherever there are lots of eyes looking at screens, spammers will be there; so why not with politics?’
Democracy is something the west takes seriously but it is of course open for abuse. It is nice to see that researchers out there are trying to uncover fake grass roots schemes (also known as Astroturf). The aim of this particular project was to find organised propaganda or smear campaigns masquerading as a spontaneous outpouring of opinion on Twitter.
The Truthy project used network-analysis and data-mining methods but largely focused on network-analysis. Network-analysis basically maps out the connections between different members of a network. The technique has been taken from mathematicians and scientists but has great applications in analyzing social networks online.
The original tip-off came from Twitter users who had noticed the suspicious behaviour and wanted it investigated further. Tip-offs formed a big part of the project but by tracking ‘memes’ they were able to see the authenticity of spikes in the usage of particular keywords or Weblinks. If these memes come from many unconnected accounts it probably means they are legitimate, but if they come from a small, tightly connected network of accounts they were probably Astroturf.
One example worth mentioning is the case of ‘Freedomist.com’. They apparently used 10 different twitter accounts to send thousands of posts (many with small changes to avoid spam guards). All the tweets were traced back to posts on Freedomist.com a conservative website.
Politics is an aggressive sport and political campaigns in the United States are notoriously filled with slander, propaganda and smear campaigns. It has been long accepted that you should not believe what you see on TV unfortunately the same can be said of the Internet.
Web 2.0 is a wonderful thing but no abusing it!