Cal Students Develop Way To Expose Fake News Accounts, Bots On Twitter

BERKELEY (KPIX) — Two Bay Area college students may have found a way to expose fake accounts on Twitter known as bots.

From their apartment just off the Cal campus Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte or RoBhat Labs believe they have cracked the code that’s been bedeviling social media companies and Congress — fake news and bots.

“There is a lot of these political propaganda accounts that are spreading fake news,” says Phadte.

Like the famous alt-right account “Jenna Abrams” – which was revealed on Friday to be a Russian bot account.

They’ve created website called Botcheck.me – as well as a Google Chrome extension that can tell, based on a set of characteristics, whether the account you’re looking at is flesh and blood or ones and zeros.

“We essentially train on these characteristics – get a good understanding of what a propaganda bot looks like and what a human looks like and we then predict whether the account is a bot or not based on that,” says Bhat.

The project took these 20-year-olds just eight weeks to complete. They already tackled identifying fake news and propaganda on Facebook — so Twitter was next.

“Looking further into these accounts, we realized some of these accounts aren’t really human behavior,” says Phadte. “They’re constantly retweeting every minute throughout the 24 hours, they have thousands of followers – but they created their account really only a month ago”

Botcheck.me and the Google Chrome extension already have tens of thousands of users and an impressive accuracy rate in separating real people from digital.

“Right now we’re around 93.5 percent and that number is going up every single day as users keep using it,” says Bhat. “Our algorithm is definite like a good first step, but we don’t have all the information Twitter has,”

The inventors have sent an e-mail to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey but still haven’t heard back from him.

“A lot of users, tens of thousands of users have actually taken this tool and have actively started classifying propaganda bots on Twitter,” says Phadte.

“But we feel it’s not the responsibility of these users, it’s the responsibility of Twitter and we see this weird predicament right now,” adds Bhat.

So far, the algorithm only detects political bots on Twitter.

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