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article imageTwitter talks about its bot problem and fake news

By James Walker     Jun 16, 2017 in Technology
Twitter has elaborated on how it's approaching the spread of fake news and misinformation on its platform. After facing heavy criticism for allowing giant "botnets" of fake users to proliferate, the company said it's "doubling down" on the bot problem.
In a blog post published earlier this week, Twitter said it sees its job as keeping people "informed about what's happening in the world." It noted that the past year has given rise to a vast amount of misinformation that ranges from deliberately falsified "news" articles to state-sponsored propaganda efforts. Collectively, these kinds of misleading report are typically termed "fake news."
Twitter addressed longstanding concerns around its attitude to fake news. In recent months, it has come under fire from users, the press and critics for appearing to allow misinformation to spread rapidly. One study last month found that one in eight "news" links shared while on the campaign trail for the UK election were "junk" information. One in four came from a bot.
Indirectly commenting on this kind of issue, Twitter said it is working hard to detect spam "at source." The company is developing systems that can look for trends in the mass distribution of Tweets. It can better spot attempts to influence or sway its trending topics and there's enhanced monitoring for policy violations. If an account does breach its platform rules, the visibility of its Tweets will be reduced. If the activity continues, the account could be disabled entirely.
Twitter said that bots "can be a positive and vital tool." It also noted that some bots are seeking to wreak havoc on its platform, aiming to spread false information, influence political opinions and restrict the organic nature of democracy. The company stated it "strictly prohibits" the use of bots in this way and is expanding its dedicated team trying to identify and remove offenders.
While appearing to acknowledge its failings, Twitter also claimed its platform enables debate and rich discourse. It said that Tweets containing false information or "alternative facts" are almost immediately identified and challenged by users, starting new debates on the issues. The company described this activity as "vital" and "a powerful antidote" to the spread of misleading reports.
"This is important because we cannot distinguish whether every single Tweet from every person is truthful or not," said Twitter. "We, as a company, should not be the arbiter of truth. Journalists, experts and engaged citizens Tweet side-by-side correcting and challenging public discourse in seconds."
Despite its progress, Twitter still has a long way to go though. The company’s platform is one of the most frequented among social media manipulators and propagandists.
As The New York Times pointed out last month, Twitter's willingness to publicly expose reach metrics – such as likes and retweets – creates a system that can easily be gamed. Because people tend to automatically correlate "likes" with real world popularity, a botnet of fake users that drives thousands of clicks to a Tweet causes significant damage.
While Twitter is actively trying to pivot to a more proactive defence strategy, the tide is against it. With pressure being piled on from users, the media and now investors, the company's running out of time to resolve the problem. This week's design overhaul solves some of Twitter's biggest usability issues but won't significantly hinder the distribution of misinformation.
More about Twitter, Bots, fake news, alternative facts, Social media
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