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    • One of the common assumptions, about the disinformation campaigns that took place during the 2016 US elections, is that the campaigns were largely the result of thousands of conspiracy websites and social media bots.  However, a new Big Data analysis from the Knight Foundation reveals that “79.3% of the tweets that link to fake and conspiracy news are concentrated on just 24 outlets.”

      What I learned.

      Bots never sleep.  Signs of an automated account are tweets that occur without a pause for sleep. 

      Their tweets tend to occur at regular times each day.

      Automated accounts are coordinated.  Tweeting by coordinated accounts occurs within a few minutes of the first tweet.

      The most interesting takeaway:

      “Twitter claims that they have cracked down on automated accounts that spread fake news and engage in ‘spammy behavior.’  Yet despite this, 83% of the mapped accounts that spread fake and conspiracy news during the 2016 election are still active today.”

    • Wow, that's quite a report. It's long and some words exceed my vocabulary, but I love digging into stuff like this as it breaks new ground on stuff we don't already know. How did you come across it?

      This quote stopped me in my tracks:

      A supercluster of densely interlinked, heavily followed accounts
      plays a large role in the spread of fake news and disinformation
      on Twitter...they publish more than a million tweets on a typical day.

      Heavily followed, a million tweets a day! The thing that fascinates me is what makes a conspiracy theory attractive and lends itself to deep conviction? For example, @amacbean16 and I were at the Monterey Bay Aquarium yesterday and ran into a fervent believer in the flat earth theory. He offered us $5,000 if we could prove the earth is a spinning round object.

      Far as I know, there is no profit motive from companies to have people believe that, and no motivation from nation states, other than maybe to erode faith in institutions like NASA. So what attracts people to conspiracies like that and makes the conspiracy theories so durable?

    • Far as I know, there is no profit motive from companies to have people believe that, and no motivation from nation states, other than maybe to erode faith in institutions like NASA. So what attracts people to conspiracies like that and makes the conspiracy theories so durable?

      It is to me fascinating psychology. My take - it's rooted in a need or desire for comforting the soul - if you will. Just as religion offers salvation, we yearn to be loved, understood, approved and feel someone cares. How, you may understanbly ask, all this fits into conspiracy theories? It's that we (and I use the word loosely here, for demonstration purpose not to refer to person in herein conversation) have a need to establish a framework of beliefs, so that our world has meaning. It doesn't matter, or perhaps exactly because it's antagonistic with known established reality, we believe even stronger and hold it dear. It's likely traced down to some deep hurt, which causes flipping normality to become acceptable. Sorry if this makes little sense!

    • Anyways, this is why we need Cake! Cake is a place where people can go to get real information, have real dialogue, and not be distracted by the dissemination of fake news/propaganda.

    • The thing that fascinates me is what makes a conspiracy theory attractive and lends itself to deep conviction?

      I think it has something to do with coincidence or the "odds" of things happening. Improbable coincidences are bound to happen at some point in our lives because there are so many moments we live through. Our nature is to look for patterns and we are always mining vast amounts of data (more so now than ever in human history).

      I remember in the mid-90s there were books on the hidden meaning of coincidences and how to harness them for empowerment. All that ties into intuition strengthening and "muscle testing" to find out the gut truth about something. Maybe conspiracy theories thrive because we find all these coincidences (basically the rule of large numbers) intersecting and we can't help but try to find meaning from them so we can prove one thing or another.

    • Very disturbing, especially the 83% statistic still being active today. There is another study at Carnegie Mellon about toning down the volume of online hate.

      "People who have come to believe one conspiracy theory often can be convinced of others, she said. Once they’re in, it’s hard to pull them out of conspiracy land."

      They have developed bot hunters, troll hunters and ways of identifying memes, but they don't have a foolproof way to identify who the bad guys are.

      One idea is to have commenters use a mouse to draw a smiley face before weighing in on a politically charged blog post to try to get a more positive response out of them. Heh.

    • they don't have a foolproof way to identify who the bad guys are.

      On Adventure Rider, we have a nice older gentleman and motorcyclist that we believe is a Russian information officer. Problem is, are we sure? To find out, I offered to skype with him. He took me up on my offer.

      And at the end of the 30 minutes, I came away thinking he either really doesn’t believe paid Russians and bots are doing what we believe they are doing, or he is paid and trained to say he doesn’t and post about it.

      In any case, my belief is Putin is very clever and their strategy is exceptionally cost effective.

    • Exactly, and this is how great stoyrlines are developed in movies. Who is telling the truth, and do you, as the viewer, know what the truth really is? There is a TV soap opera series "How to Get Away with Murder" and everyone has something to hide. The characters always lie directly to the person they promised they would tell the truth to "from now on." The writers have created very deep reasons as to why they are covering up something. Usually, the situation they are dealing with in the present started decades ago, so trying to figure out their motivations is half the fun in watching. (Viola Davis is a fantastic actor!)

      I'm thinking that lying usually has to do with protecting ourselves or some other person, like for an altruistic reason, right? But when you are lying because you are being paid to, that is creepy spy stuff. We tend to think Russians are always working for the KGB (willingly or by force) and they don't seem to let us down!

    • “Wow, that's quite a report. It's long and some words exceed my vocabulary, but I love digging into stuff like this as it breaks new ground on stuff we don't already know. How did you come across it?”

      Sorry for the delay in responding, @Chris .  I subscribe to several newsletters on the field of data science.  Most of the articles are highly technical, including programming code from Python.  But occasionally they’ll include interesting content that’s more general interest. Glad that you enjoyed the read.

    • I'm honestly surprised about the amount of BS that people are willing to believe. I see it posted on Facebook by some of my friends and I'm often left speechless.

    • According to the Pew Research Center, “A quarter of Americans now see themselves as spiritual but not religious.”  

      It could be interesting to compare the rate of increase in alternative beliefs, such as

      conspiracy theories

      Flat Earth

      anti-vaccination

      Climate Change Denial

      alternative religions

      over the past 5-10 years to the rate of decline in traditional religious beliefs.

    • “Facts rarely work” as a counter to conspiracy theories, she said, because believers “are operating emotionally” and are predisposed to discount anything that runs counter to those feelings. Plus, she said, for some people disinformation “is just plain fun” compared to cold reality.

      Quite interesting article on combating disinformation, @Jain . I do love the mouse drawing captcha to slow down the amygdala’s troll-like response tendency. People will often say horrible things online that they would never dare to say to someone’s face. So if a mouse 🐁 can reduce online harm, I hope that similar mechanisms are implemented on online discussion platforms.

      I was listening to an interesting podcast with Emily Oster, a Data Science researcher who examines our pre-conceived notions and challenges her audience to think differently on topics such as the link between the spread of AIDS and Africa, the benefits of breastfeeding, and choosing not to vaccinate. As @jpop alluded to with Flat Earth, she had the greatest challenge in trying to confront and challenge people’s most entrenched views.

      Emily Oster: What do we really know about the spread of AIDS?

    • People will often say horrible things online that they would never dare to say to someone’s face.

      So true, @StephenL. And people seem to forget that we shouldn't put anything in writing (or in a video!) that we wouldn't want the whole world to see. Our pre-conceived notions (or confirmation bias) are typically opinions we've gleaned from the dumping grounds of others rather than our actual experiences. And perception always reflects the perceiver.