Not everything massive is real: how to identify manipulated trends?

Not everything massive is real: how to identify manipulated trends?

Published on 03 Apr 2023

How to recognize if a conversation is inauthentic or not?

Looking at the trends positioned on Twitter will not always be a thermometer to know the conversation of the day, especially in Venezuela. Unfortunately, for years the hashtags that manage to climb the top positions in the country are mostly a reflection of campaigns coordinated by the ruling party to impose its narratives and topics inauthentically.

In this way, the inorganic nature waves the red flag of chavismo in the social network and has been contaminating the conversation, in a medium largely used by social and political activism, as the main information channel due to the closure and censorship of traditional media.

So, how to recognize whether a conversation is inauthentic or not, what to do about it, and how to fight against it?

Inorganic behavior in social media: what is it and where does it come from?

For the ProBox Digital Observatory, inorganic behavior is all the content generated by possible automated accounts (bots) or with inauthentic behavior that work in a coordinated manner with the intention of amplifying a message, diverting attention from some events and positioning their narratives, especially through trending topics on Twitter.

On the other hand, organic content comes from accounts associated with the behavior or interaction of human beings on social media; they have their own content, varied information, interact from these accounts and their identity and the content they usually share can be verified.

A common mistake is to think that inorganic conversation on networks comes only from automated accounts or bots that can eventually be identified by Twitter and removed. Much of the inorganicity, at least in Venezuela, comes from people who are coordinated among themselves and who create fake profiles to amplify, for the most part, narratives dictated by official entities of the Chavista government, such as the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIPPCI).

In ProBox we explain two types of accounts that contaminate the conversation on Twitter: bots and digital troops:

What are Bots?

Bots are computer programs designed to perform tasks in an automated way on the Internet and have immense capabilities, including simulating real people on social media, increasing the visibility of an account or interacting and managing profiles on any platform such as Twitter. Some of the most known and used are chatbots, social bots and Twitter Bots.

What are Digital Troops?

They are groups of accounts managed by real people, coordinated with each other, to push and amplify false narratives massively (and generally inauthentic) in social media.

In Venezuela, digital troops act mainly by the hand of the MIPPCI, since this Ministry is the actor that promotes most of the hashtags in the digital conversation on Twitter to be boosted by these troops.

Thanks to the findings of researchers, journalists and activists, it has been revealed and denounced that this numerical superiority of the ruling party over the rest of the actors in the socio-political conversation in social media is mainly due to a network of users called “Tuiteros de la Patria” (Tweeters of the Homeland).

The “Tuiteros de la Patria” are a group of people, mostly sympathizers of the pro-Maduro regime, who receive “prizes” or “economic incentives” (bonuses) through the “Carnet de la Patria” (the Homeland ID) for promoting the narratives of the ruling party on Twitter.

Steps to recognize inauthentic or inorganic behavior on Twitter

For the executive director of ProBox, Mariví Marín, the best advice to recognize an inorganic account is to look at its behavior:

“Through our technological tool we define and study each of the accounts that interact in the socio-political trends promoted in Venezuela and evaluate their behavior to know how many of these may be real people, possible bots or accounts managed by real people but with inauthentic behavior”, says Marin.

However, beyond the use of technological tools, there are certain aspects that citizens can observe to determine if they are facing this false activity that seeks to manipulate the conversation in social media:

  1. Look at the profile: if it is anonymous or does not have a verifiable photo, it is a sign that we may be facing a false identity.
  2. Look at the content: if the only thing an account does is generate retweets and does not produce any content of its own, opinions and interactions, we can also see it as suspicious.
  3. Look at the followers: a characteristic of these accounts is that they follow many people but very few accounts follow them.
  4. Look at the creation date: accounts with inorganic content are usually very recent because they are suspended for being fake, so the time of creation of the account is also very important.
  5. Look at its posting rhythm: a rhythmic tweeting ability is suspicious. For example, if an account tweets every 15 seconds or every minute the same message, it could be an automated account. This is a behavior that is associated with more bots or people using the network inauthentically.

The dangers of inorganic conversation on social media

From ProBox we have evaluated how the positioning of hashtags on Twitter is dominated by the officialism every week, although this conversation is generally inorganic.

“Trends in Venezuela driven by officialism have a high rate of inorganicity due to content generated through possible bots or real accounts coordinated inauthentically. MIPPCI publishes every morning a hashtag of the day, which is the line of official communication and is replicated massively by inorganic accounts”, explains the CEO of ProBox.

She also adds that the danger of the inorganic conversation in networks is that the international community, and even Venezuelans in exile, use social platforms to inform themselves about what is happening in the country and to somehow create a criterion about the situation in Venezuela:

“If one does not understand how social networks can be manipulated, then anyone is easily vulnerable to fall for false information, to promote or somehow amplify disinformation. This is clearly risky for any society, but even more so for countries in contexts where social networks have become one of the main sources of information”, says Marín.

For her part, the General Director of ProBox, Estefania Da Silva, points out that the real danger is that the lack of verification means that people may believe these false narratives:

“Not everything massive on social media is real. In ProBox we see hashtags positioned as a trend that have two million tweets and in the end they are being manipulated, they are positioning disinformation on a specific topic or are making propaganda and do not go hand in hand with the reality that is being lived in the country based on what is being reported in independent media”, says Da Silva, who adds that it is essential to continue educating citizens to understand the phenomenon of disinformation and defend digital rights.

Remember that in our Instagram account, @ProBoxVE, you can find more information about manipulated content in social networks and how to identify it.

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