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Researchers voice concern over spread of disinformation on social media about US poll campaigns

Researchers in the US have voiced concern over the spread of disinformation on social media platforms about US President Donald Trump, his Democratic rival Joe Biden and their poll campaigns, threatening the integrity of the November 3 presidential elections.

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New York Updated on: October 30, 2020 16:32 IST
US poll campaigns
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Researchers voice concern over spread of disinformation on social media about US poll campaigns

Researchers in the US have voiced concern over the spread of disinformation on social media platforms about US President Donald Trump, his Democratic rival Joe Biden and their poll campaigns, threatening the integrity of the November 3 presidential elections.

Researchers at the University of Southern California released a study this week that said that thousands of automated accounts, or “bots,” on Twitter and conspiracy theorists are sowing disinformation around the upcoming elections.

“The state of social media manipulation during the 2020 election is no better than it was in 2016. We are very concerned by the proliferation of bots used to spread political conspiracies and the widespread appeal that those conspiracy narratives seem to have on the platform,” the study's lead author Emilio Ferrara, associate professor of computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, said.

“The combination of automated disinformation and distortion on social media continue to threaten the integrity of US elections,” Ferrara, who is also the associate professor of communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said.

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An article in USC News said that the study looked at more than 240 million election-related tweets and found that thousands of automated accounts, known as bots, had posted tweets about President Donald Trump, his Democratic rival Joe Biden and their campaigns.

The study found that the conspiracy theories traced in tweets included the far-right conspiracy QAnon, conspiracies such as “pizzagate,” a debunked claim linking Democratic Party officials and US restaurants with child sex trafficking.

They also studied which users were likely to share politically biased COVID-19 conspiracy narratives about the origins of the coronavirus or unsupported claims about treatments for the disease, USC News said.

“We discovered that bots also exacerbate the consumption of content produced by users with their same political views, worsening the issue of political echo chambers,” the researchers said.

They looked at over 240 million election-related tweets recorded between June 20 and September 9 to chart the landscape of social media manipulation in the context of the upcoming US presidential election.

"I think the most important finding here is that bots exacerbate the consumption of content within the same political chamber, so it increases the effect of echo chambers or the salience of those tweets,” Ferrara said in the USC News article.

“Throughout their analysis, the research team identified significant differences between bots and humans and the type of election content they tweet and re-tweet on the social media platform,” it said.

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