In the United States, nearly half of the tweets calling for an end to containment were posted by robots.


Beware of conspiracy theories that “real consequences”.

In mid-April, a few hundred Americans took to the streets to shout their desire to end containment and revive economic activity. The arguments are manifold: some want to work again, because the pandemic has made their living conditions even more precarious, while others simply want to regain their individual freedom. A view shared by none other than the president himself, Donald Trump, who called on the governors of different states to “liberate” them. The protest took place mainly on Twitter, where supporters of the US president did not hesitate to share their views.

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According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, it seems that more than half of the tweets posted against inclusion were in fact fake messages posted by robots. Researchers have collected 200,000 million tweets about coronavirus since January and found that 82 percent of the 50 most influential retweeters on the platform were robots, and 62 percent of the top 1,000 retweeters were also bots, CTV News reports.

“We see up to twice as much robot activity as we predicted due to natural disasters, crises, and previous elections.”Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, said. Information is generally considered to be software that controls Twitter accounts and automates tasks such as tweeting or retweeting. In this way, it is possible for a single person to control thousands of accounts. According to Kathleen Carley, the increase in robot activity is due to the fact that more people were at home due to captivity and thus had time to develop their own robots.

“Unlock Our Economy,” reads the sign in Ohio on April 17, 2020. © Belga Image / Adam Cairns / Columbus Dispatch

The Danger of Conspiracy Theories

The researchers found that some tweets calling for an end to containment contained unfounded conspiracy theories, such as the debug theory that linked coronavirus to 5G cell towers. “People have real concerns about health and the economy, and people use them to create divisions.”Kathleen Carley regrets. In their opinion, the spread of conspiracy theories can be used to engage in more extreme behaviours with “real consequences” such as the influence on voting behaviour and “Hostility towards ethnic groups”CTV News explains.

Researchers are urging users to be extremely vigilant on social networks, especially on Twitter. Some signs may indicate that it is a robot, such as sharing links with typos, posting multiple tweets very quickly, or a username and profile picture that do not match.