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Spotting a Social Bot Might Be Harder Than You Think

By Northeastern University News

August 21, 2017

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Although savvy Internet users might think they can easily identify a social media bot, there are tricks a "bot army master" can use to make the accounts seem more human-like.

For example, because most automated bots cannot respond to a conversation, the bot master might intervene from time to time and join a conversation or introduce templates of arguments and responses, says Northeastern University researcher Onur Varol.

In addition, Varol says one small change to an algorithm can instruct thousands of bots to change the subject and shift online attention. He says these tactics enable bots to remain hidden, and may help explain why so many readers are susceptible to fake news.

In an effort to automate the identification of bots, Varol and his colleagues developed Botometer, a website that enables users to submit a Twitter handle and immediately get a rating for the account. The higher the rating, the more likely the account is a bot.

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