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#FakeNews Travels Fast — How Social Bots and Trolls Are Reshaping Public Debates

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Molding public opinion is as old as politics. In recent years, as more and more Canadians are spending their time online, the process and methods used to influence public opinions have undergone some major changes. Most recently, these include the emergence of social bots and troll armies designed to shape public discourse. Their impact was felt in 2016 during the U.S. presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum. In both cases, social media platforms have emerged as an important avenue for disinformation operations and misinformation campaigns. Enabled by bots, trolls, and algorithm-driven filter bubbles, the weaponization of social media is undermining and weakening public trust in government institutions across the globe and threatening the future of democracy.

Join us at the next TRSM Dean’s Speaker Series as we dive into the fascinating world of political bots and trolls in Canada with Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd, Director of Research at Ryerson University Social Media Lab at TRSM. Dr. Gruzd will show how his lab uses publicly available social media data to show how misinformation spreads through online social networks on sites like Twitter and Facebook and recent discoveries about how bots and trolls are being injected into the conversation during the 2019 campaign. The event will be moderated by Tom Clark, Chairman, Global Public Affairs.

Bios:
Anatoliy Gruzd, PhD is a Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, and Director of Research at the Social Media Lab in Toronto, Canada. He is also a founding co-editor of a multidisciplinary journal on Big Data and Society. His work explores the inner workings of online communities, studying how people and organizations adapt to social media in various domains, and examining tensions between privacy and self-disclosure on social media networks.

Tom Clark joined Global after almost 45 years at the most senior levels of Canadian journalism. Tom left Global News on January 1, 2017, after serving as the network’s chief political correspondent and host of The West Block. He has interviewed every Canadian Prime Minister since Lester B. Pearson and has covered every federal election campaign since 1974. He has reported in eight active war zones and from over 33 countries. Tom was CTV’s China Bureau Chief and was also its Chief Washington Correspondent for five years. He has a deep understanding of Canada’s position in an increasingly complicated international dynamic. Tom is the recipient of Radio Television Digital News Association lifetime achievement award and has been named one of the most influential journalists in Ottawa.

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#FakeNews Travels Fast — How Social Bots and Trolls Are Reshaping Public Debates

  1. 1. #FakeNews Travels Fast — How Social Bots and Trolls Are Reshaping Public Debates Anatoliy Gruzd @Gruzd
  2. 2. NAME OR LOGO 2 ○ Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Maecenas porttitor congue The Lab & The People “Making Sense of a Networked World” The lab’s research seeks to advance the public’s understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of social media adoption. @SMLabTO
  3. 3. NAME OR LOGO 3 Barack Obama won his 1st Presidency @SMLabTO 2008
  4. 4. NAME OR LOGO 4 2011 Barack Obama won his 1st Presidency @SMLabTO 2008
  5. 5. NAME OR LOGO 5 2008 2011 2016 Social media is an “existential threat to democracy” Barack Obama won his 1st Presidency @SMLabTO
  6. 6. NAME OR LOGO The use of social media during popular political uprisings Virtual No More 6@SMLabTO
  7. 7. NAME OR LOGO 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Virtual No More U.K.’s Brexit referendum 7
  8. 8. NAME OR LOGO Misinformation spreads like wildfire over social media But this is not a bug. It’s a feature. Image credit: Geralt 8@SMLabTO
  9. 9. Outline 9 Social Network Analysis 101 2016 US Presidential Election 2019 Canadian Federal Election #FakeNews Travels Fast — How Social Bots and Trolls Are Reshaping Public Debates
  10. 10. NAME OR LOGO Why Study the Spread of Misinformation on Twitter? ○ The 4th most popular social media platform in Canada ○ Used by public figures, journalists and citizens 10@SMLabTO
  11. 11. NAME OR LOGO ○ Nearly 5M are interested in Canadian politics Sources: Twitter’s Ads Platform; Polidashboard.ca 4.71M users engaged with #cdnpoli ~150K users posted with #cdnpoli since July 2019 11@SMLabTO Why Study the Spread of Misinformation on Twitter?
  12. 12. NAME OR LOGO @John @Marry @Anne Nodes = Twitter accounts (person/org) Network Ties = “Who retweeted/ replied/mentioned whom” Tie strength = The number of retweets (or replies or mentions) Using Social Network Analysis to Study the Spread of Misinformation on Twitter 12@SMLabTO
  13. 13. NAME OR LOGO Network Ties Discovering a Network Structure One Tweet at the time @JustinTrudeau @realDonaldTrump @WhiteHouse 13@SMLabTO
  14. 14. NAME OR LOGO Examples of Different Information Propagation Models on Twitter 14@SMLabTO
  15. 15. Outline 15 Social Network Analysis 101 2016 US Presidential Election 2019 Canadian Federal Election #FakeNews Travels Fast — How Social Bots and Trolls Are Reshaping Public Debates
  16. 16. NAME OR LOGO 2011 - 2018 3,836 IRA-associated accounts 9M tweets & RTs https://about.twitter.com/en_us/values/elections-integrity.html#data 200k Tweets & RTs Example of Election Interference Campaign on Twitter: Russian Internet Research Agency / IRA accounts 16@SMLabTO
  17. 17. NAME OR LOGO Activities of IRA Twitter accounts 1 month before the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election 38,000 accounts 1% (381) IRA accounts >200,000 tweets & RTs Red nodes = known IRA accounts 17@SMLabTO
  18. 18. NAME OR LOGO Example: Source:https://www.reddit.com/r/The_Donald Activities of IRA Twitter accounts 1 month before the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election 38,000 accounts 1% (381) IRA accounts >200,000 tweets & RTs 18 Red nodes = known IRA accounts @SMLabTO
  19. 19. NAME OR LOGO Activities of IRA Twitter accounts 1 month before the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election 38,000 accounts 1% (381) IRA accounts >200,000 tweets & RTs 19 Red nodes = known IRA accounts @SMLabTO
  20. 20. NAME OR LOGO pro-Trump and anti-Hillary cluster Activities of IRA Twitter accounts 1 month before the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election 38,000 accounts 1% (381) IRA accounts >200,000 tweets & RTs 20 Red nodes = known IRA accounts @SMLabTO pro-Trump and anti-Hillary cluster
  21. 21. NAME OR LOGO #BlackLivesMatter cluster Activities of IRA Twitter accounts 1 month before the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election 38,000 accounts 1% (381) IRA accounts >200,000 tweets & RTs 21 Red nodes = known IRA accounts @SMLabTO #BlackLivesMatter cluster
  22. 22. NAME OR LOGO Pro-Putin cluster Activities of IRA Twitter accounts 1 month before the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election 38,000 accounts 1% (381) IRA accounts >200,000 tweets & RTs 22 Red nodes = known IRA accounts @SMLabTO
  23. 23. NAME OR LOGO Sports & Entertainment cluster Activities of IRA Twitter accounts 1 month before the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election 38,000 accounts 1% (381) IRA accounts >200,000 tweets & RTs 23 Red nodes = known IRA accounts Sports & Entertainment cluster
  24. 24. NAME OR LOGO Activities of IRA Twitter accounts 1 month before the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election 38,000 accounts 1% (381) IRA accounts >200,000 tweets & RTs 24 Red nodes = known IRA accounts @SMLabTO
  25. 25. Outline 25 Social Network Analysis 101 2016 US Presidential Election 2019 Canadian Federal Election #FakeNews Travels Fast — How Social Bots and Trolls Are Reshaping Public Debates
  26. 26. NAME OR LOGO Canada is not immune to this 26@SMLabTO
  27. 27. NAME OR LOGO Canada is not immune to this The ‘State of Social Media’ report is avail. at socialmedialab.ca 27 @SMLabTO
  28. 28. NAME OR LOGO Pre-Writs … Fears of Election Interference 28 Social Media Lab’s #ELXN43 Transparency Initiative polidashboard.ca
  29. 29. NAME OR LOGO Social Media Lab’s #ELXN43 Transparency Initiative 29 #CNDPoli Twitter Module Facebook Political Ads Module Focus of Today’s Presentation polidashboard.ca
  30. 30. NAME OR LOGO Deleted Content 1 Blacklist sites 2 Bots 3 Trolls 4 30polidashboard.ca Main Features
  31. 31. NAME OR LOGO General Stats and Deleted Accounts 31@SMLabTO polidashboard.ca
  32. 32. NAME OR LOGO Sample Content Shared by Suspended Users Discrediting mainstream media Sharing misinformation Posting far-right, anti-muslim content 32@SMLabTO polidashboard.ca
  33. 33. NAME OR LOGO Deleted Content 1 Blacklist sites 2 Bots 3 Trolls 4 33polidashboard.ca Main Features
  34. 34. NAME OR LOGO Link Sharing Shared URLs 55-70% URLs to mainstream media polidashboard.ca 34@SMLabTO
  35. 35. NAME OR LOGO Link Sharing Shared URLs 7-18% URLs to (hyper)partisan sites 35@SMLabTO polidashboard.ca
  36. 36. NAME OR LOGO Link Sharing Shared URLs <1% URLs to blacklisted sites 36@SMLabTO polidashboard.ca
  37. 37. NAME OR LOGO Link Sharing Shared URLs <1% URLs to blacklisted sites 37@SMLabTO polidashboard.ca
  38. 38. NAME OR LOGO Deleted Content 1 Blacklist sites 2 Bots 3 Trolls 4 38polidashboard.ca Main Features
  39. 39. BotDetectionon Twitter 39@SMLabTO
  40. 40. NAME OR LOGO Sample Twitter Bots 40@SMLabTO ○ Social Bots – software designed to act on the Internet with some level of autonomy
  41. 41. NAME OR LOGO “Bad” Bots • Amplify/spread misinformation • Expose private information • Enlarge the audience • Manipulate stock prices • Influence public opinion http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2016/7/204021-the-rise-of-social-bots/fulltext 41@SMLabTO
  42. 42. NAME OR LOGO Online Bot Detection Tool Bot or Not 42@SMLabTO
  43. 43. NAME OR LOGO Active Users and Automation 43@SMLabTO polidashboard.ca
  44. 44. NAME OR LOGO 2,419 tweets/RTs 4% probability of being automated Examples: Active Users and Automation 640 tweets/RTs 64% probability of automation 44@SMLabTO polidashboard.ca
  45. 45. NAME OR LOGO #CDNPoli Twitter Communication Network|Sep 12-15, 2019 node color = likelihood of automation (from green to red)
  46. 46. NAME OR LOGO 46@SMLabTO 2016 IRA/Pro-Putin cluster2019 #CndPoli - Bots are dispersed across the network - No appearance of coordinated efforts - Bots are clustered around a group of accounts - A sign of coordination
  47. 47. NAME OR LOGO Frequently mentioned words in user profiles of likely bots 47@SMLabTO
  48. 48. NAME OR LOGO Deleted Content 1 Blacklist sites 2 Bots 3 Trolls 4 48polidashboard.ca Main Features
  49. 49. Trolls-R-US: WhoareInternetTrolls& HowtoSpotThem 49@SMLabTO
  50. 50. NAME OR LOGO50 • Trolling is defined as “an insulting, bullying, and deliberate behavior, designed to provoke a reaction which has significant emotive effects” Who are Internet Trolls? (March & Marrington, 2019) 0 50 100 150 Comments Arguments Bullying Harassment Insulting What behaviors consitute Internet Trolling? 50@SMLabTO
  51. 51. NAME OR LOGO Sample Trolling Behavior POST 52 REPLY Sample tweet attacking Jagmeet Singh @SMLabTO
  52. 52. NAME OR LOGO POST 53 REPLY A negative tie @SMLabTO Using a Toxicity Analysis to Discover Trolling Behavior
  53. 53. NAME OR LOGO Tweets from/to a Group of Candidates 54@SMLabTO
  54. 54. NAME OR LOGO Candidates as Toxicity “Magnets” The National Citizens Alliance of Canada (NCA) led by Stephen J Garvey is an officially registered federal party. 55@SMLabTO
  55. 55. NAME OR LOGO Sample Tweets Targeting the National Citizens Alliance (NCA) Candidate “ ”you’re a disgusting piece of sh*t. “ ”you're a racist little bitch and u ugly as f*ck. “ ”you are a horrible piece of sh*t. 56@SMLabTO
  56. 56. NAME OR LOGO Liberal Party candidate running for re-election in Halifax 57@SMLabTO
  57. 57. NAME OR LOGO 58 2011 Social media is an “existential threat to democracy” Barack Obama won his 1st Presidency @SMLabTO 2008 2016 Recap
  58. 58. NAME OR LOGO 59 2008 2011 2016 2019 RecapSocial media is an “existential threat to democracy” Barack Obama won his 1st Presidency The presence of bots and the proliferation of toxic exchanges @SMLabTO
  59. 59. Where do we go from here? 60@SMLabTO
  60. 60. NAME OR LOGO Where do we go from here? 2. Policy 61 1. Technology 3. Education Multi-stakeholder approach to … @SMLabTO
  61. 61. #FakeNews Travels Fast — How Social Bots and Trolls Are Reshaping Public Debates Anatoliy Gruzd Tom Clark

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