Social media accounts run by internet robots may be driving much of the discussion around the health threats posed by e-cigarettes, according to a study led by San Diego State University researchers, who also found most of the automated messages were positive toward vaping.
More than 70 percent of the tweets analyzed in the study appeared to have been put out by robots, also known as bots, whose use to influence public opinion and sell products while posing as real people is coming under increased scrutiny.
The discovery of the apparent bot promotion of vaping was unexpected. The team originally set out to use Twitter data to study the use and perceptions of e-cigarettes in the United States and to understand characteristics of users discussing e-cigarettes.
“Robots are the biggest challenges and problems in social media analytics,” said Ming-Hsiang Tsou, founding director of SDSU’s Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age, and co-author on the newly published study. “Since most of them are ‘commercial-oriented’ or ‘political-oriented,’ they will skew the analysis results and provide wrong conclusions for the analysis.”
The findings come amid announcements by Twitter recently that it would be removing suspicious and fake accounts by the millions and also introduce new mechanisms to identify and fight spam and abuse on its platform, among other measures.
“Some robots can be easily removed based on their content and behaviors,” Tsou said. “But some robots look exactly like human beings and can be more difficult to detect. This is a very hot topic now in social media analytics research.”
Read more at San Diego State University