It’s official: Bots are doing a lot of PR grunt work on Twitter — especially when it comes to promoting porn websites. That perhaps unsurprising conclusion about what automated Twitter accounts are link sharing comes courtesy of a new study by the Pew Research Center which set out to quantify one aspect of bot-based activity in the Twittersphere. Specifically the researchers wanted to know what proportion of tweeted links to popular websites are posted by automated accounts, rather than by human users? The answer they came up with is that around two-thirds of tweeted links to popular websites are posted by bots rather than humans. The researchers say they were interested in trying to understand a bit more about how information spreads on Twitter. Though for this study they didn’t try to delve directly into more tricky (and sticky) questions about bots — like whether the information being spread by these robots is actually disinformation. Pew’s researchers also didn’t try to determine whether the automated link PR activity actually led to significant levels of human engagement with the content in question. (Something that can be difficult for external researchers to determine because Twitter does not provide full access to how it shapes the visibility of tweets on its platform, nor data on how individual users are making use of controls and settings that can influence what they see or don’t on its platform). So, safe to say, many bot-related questions remain to be robustly investigated. But here at least is another tidbit of intel about what automated accounts are up to vis-a-vis major media websites — although, as always, these results are qualified as ‘suspected bots’ as a consequence of how difficult it is to definitively identify whether an online entity is human or not. (Pew used Indiana University’s Botometer machine learning tool for identifying suspected bots; relying on a score of 0.43 or higher to declare likely automation — based on a series of their own validation exercises.) Pew’s top-line conclusion is that suspected automated accounts played a prominent role in tweeting out links to content across the Twitter ecosystem — with an estimated 66% of all tweeted links to the most popular websites likely posted by automated accounts, rather than human users. The researchers determined website popularity by first conducting an analysis of 1.2 million English-language tweets containing links (pulling random sample tweet data via Twitter’s streaming API) — which…

Source: TechCrunch – Social Bots on Twitter share two-thirds of links to popular websites: Pew