Almost half of all accounts tweeting messages about the COVID-19 pandemic are believed to be bots, according to a new study out from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (via NPR). And, obviously, the people or groups behind those bots have the aim of spreading misinformation about the disease.
In determining their conclusions, the Carnegie Mellon researchers looked at 200 million tweets posted since January that discussed the virus. Out of those tweets, a staggering 45% of them were found to originate from accounts that behaved more like a bot than a human.
Such behavior included tweeting more than is physically humanly possible and apparently posting a series of tweets from multiple countries within just a few hours of each other—the chances being small that any human could travel that fast.
Across the accounts the researchers identified as bots, there were more than 100 false narratives about COVID-19 being proclaimed. These false narratives included conspiracy theories about 5G being linked to COVID-19 and mannequins being used in hospitals in an attempt to fool people into thinking there was a public health crisis. Sowing divisions in America was one of the primary aims of the bot accounts the researchers identified.
Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University who conducted the study, told NPR that people should remain vigilant when reading tweets about the pandemic online. “Even if someone appears to be from your community, if you don’t know them personally, take a closer look, and always go to authoritative or trusted sources for information,” she said.