Twitter bots surge following Russian invasion of Ukraine

31 March 2022

Tim Graham, senior lecturer in digital media at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Digital Media Research Centre, has detected a significant surge in Twitter bots, being automated accounts on the social networking service, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine last month. It seems the purpose of many of these bots is to boost, or amplify, other Twitter accounts that are disseminating propaganda supporting the Russian invasion.

The massive spike around February 24, the day of the invasion, indicated some were probably bots, but was not conclusive. Next, Dr Graham deployed a specialised software called Botometer, which uses a machine-learning algorithm to distinguish bot accounts from human ones by looking at the features of a profile, including friends, social network structure, language, and sentiment. The model gives accounts a score from zero to one, with one showing it’s certain the account is a bot. “When we ran this model and checked the result, there was clearly this huge spike of accounts which had almost a perfect bot score,” Dr Graham said.

Twitter remains unconvinced by Graham’s work though, suggesting aspects of his research may be flawed, and asserting they have more information at their disposal in assessing whether or not accounts are automated or genuine.