MYSTERY WIRE — For several months a conspiracy theory about 5G signals being used to spread the coronavirus have spread around the world. More recently, another conspiracy is spreading.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said their study found bots fueling conversations about reopening states, and some are spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation. The researchers found a subset of Twitter posts sharing conspiracies like 5G or hospital beds filled with mannequins.
“Conspiracy theories increase polarization in groups. It’s what many misinformation campaigns aim to do,” Carnegie Mellon Professor Kathleen Carley said. “People have real concerns about health and the economy, and people are preying on that to create divides.”
The new research is also now spreading. The news is being reported on sites from Rolling Stone to NPR. NPR reports the researchers used more than 200 million tweets discussing the virus since January for their study.
Another key point their research showed was that there is more than 100 false narratives about COVID-19 spreading on Twitter by bot accounts. To find this, the researchers used a bot-hunter tool which flagged accounts that tweet more than is humanly possible or claim to be in multiple countries within a few hours’ time. The researchers then looked at those flagged acounts to determine if the tweeter is a bot account.
“When we see a whole bunch of tweets at the same time or back to back, it’s like they’re timed,” Carley said. “We also look for use of the same exact hashtag, or messaging that appears to be copied and pasted from one bot to the next.”
Twitter says it has removed thousands of tweets containing misleading or potentially harmful information about the coronavirus. The researchers say they have not been able to determine where in the world most of the bot tweets are originating.
The researchers said 66% of accounts discussing “reopening America” are possibly humans with bot assistants, and about 34% are definitely bots according to a CBS News report.