24 January 2017
BBC — Massive collections of fake accounts are lying dormant on Twitter, suggests research.
The largest network ties together more than 350,000 accounts and further work suggests others may be even bigger.
UK researchers accidentally uncovered the lurking networks while probing Twitter to see how people use it.
Some of the accounts have been used to fake follower numbers, send spam and boost interest in trending topics.
On Twitter, bots are accounts that are run remotely by someone who automates the messages they send and activities they carry out. Some people pay to get bots to follow their account or to dilute chatter about controversial subjects.
“It is difficult to assess exactly how many Twitter users are bots,” said graduate student Juan Echeverria, a computer scientist at UCL, who uncovered the massive networks.
Mr Echeverria’s research began by combing through a sample of 1% of Twitter users in order to get a better understanding of how people use the social network.
However, analysis of the data revealed some strange results that, when probed further, seemed to reveal lots of linked accounts, suggesting one person or group is running the botnet. These accounts did not act like the bots other researchers had found but were clearly not being run by humans. […]