Grad Student Exposes Massive Network Of Over 350,000 Fake Twitter Accounts

Tyler Durden's picture

A computer scientist in London has stumbled upon massive networks of fake Twitter accounts - with the largest consisting of over 350,000 profiles - which may have been used to 'fake' numbers of followers, send spam, and boost interest in trending topics.

On Twitter, bots are accounts that are run remotely by someone who automates the messages they send and activities they carry out.

Some people pay to get bots to follow their account or to dilute chatter about controversial subjects.

As The BBC reports, UK researchers accidentally uncovered the lurking networks while probing Twitter to see how people use it.

The network of 350,000 bots stood out because all the accounts in it shared several subtle characteristics that revealed they were linked. These included:

  • tweets coming from places where nobody lives
  • messages being posted only from Windows phones
  • almost exclusively including quotes from Star Wars novels

It was "amazing and surprising" to discover the massive networks, said Dr Shi Zhou, a senior lecturer from UCL who oversaw Mr Echeverria's research.

"Considering all the efforts already there in detecting bots, it is amazing that we can still find so many bots, much more than previous research," Dr Zhou told the BBC.


"It is difficult to assess exactly how many Twitter users are bots," said graduate student Juan Echeverria, a computer scientist at UCL, who uncovered the massive networks.

Mr Echeverria's research began by combing through a sample of 1% of Twitter users in order to get a better understanding of how people use the social network.

However, analysis of the data revealed some strange results that, when probed further, seemed to reveal lots of linked accounts, suggesting one person or group is running the botnet. These accounts did not act like the bots other researchers had found but were clearly not being run by humans.

His research suggests earlier work to find bots has missed these types of networks because they act differently to the most obvious automated accounts.

The researchers are now asking the public via a website and a Twitter account to report bots they spot to help get a better idea of how prevalent they are. Many bots are obvious because they have been created recently, have few followers, have strange user names and little content in the messages.

"Their potential threats are real and scary due to the sheer size of the botnet," he said.

A Twitter spokesman said the social network had clear policy on automation that was "strictly enforced".

Perhaps not...

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stinkhammer's picture

Smokey, this is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules

WTFRLY's picture

Duh, major accounts from Hillary to rappers and even mainstream media accts

Joe Davola's picture

"threats are real and scary"

only if you give a damn about anything on twitter

bamawatson's picture

"peanut butter is not asphalt"

Arnold's picture

That shore is a funny lookin' handle there, Pilgrim.

Never One Roach's picture

Cant bee fake. Hillary said she won by 3 million votes. Woof Shitzer and Farheed Zack-a-rhea confirmed it.

DeadFred's picture

I suspect if the ever found an effective 'bot-be-gone' we would see a lot fewer 'joo' posts on ZH

Stuck on Zero's picture

I get two or three requests for LinkedIn connections aweek from bots. Names like Padmi Smith working IT positions for ZuluGlobal Ltd. in Zambia after graduating from Machunga University in London. I won't touch FaceBook and I'm getting tired of LinkedIn.

xythras's picture
xythras (not verified) Stuck on Zero Jan 27, 2017 4:29 PM

Just ask Obama how he got thos 80 MIL followers, all eggheads.

froze25's picture

Well we all know that multiply power factions have a vested interest in controlling and steering public opinion on various topics. Only makes sense they would use fake means to manipulate the masses, just like TV programs. Monkey See, Monkey Do. is a very true statement.

MarsInScorpio's picture

When I started writing the post below, I was the only person to get here - well, now I know why there are so many ill-considered posts: You can't write anything of substance without finding yourself at the bottom of a very long list of short spots.

Regardless, here is the post which you'll find somewhere so far down the list you'll probably never find it at all:

Hmmm . . . as a court-certified expert witness in the state courts and the corresponding federal courts in Florida, my first thought is that Twitter itself is running the botnet.

Why? To drive up advertising rates which are based on eyeballs supposedly seeing the advertising messages.

Additionally, it gives Twitter a way of burying any political messages it doesn't endorse by Tweeting it into oblivion. The two most obvious ways of doing this is to 1) slime the message it doesn't like with thousands of "objections" to the message content; 2) Put other topics into the trending list and move them up while the honest numbers of the disrespected tweet appear minuscule, and therefore, moved down the trending ranks.

We all know Twitter is an ultra-liberal, Left-Wing Fringe corporation psychopathically without any shame for its extremist totalitarian-doctrine, and elitist philosophy, that is implemented by the IT shock troops of the amoral Globalists. It is pretending to be a neutral social media corporation. This lie is another irrefutable example of the complete moral bankruptcy and absolute hypocrisy of the so-called "progressives," who are, in actuality, dictator wannabes - because in their depraved minds they are, "superior in intelligence, educated by the greatest minds on Earth, given opportunities to transform humanity into the image of themselves."

Or in plain street English: assholes.

Newbie lurker's picture

I appreciate insightful/informative posts like yours. I usually blow through the comments and only stop to read ones longer than two sentences. Not to say I haven't been a one liner offender. Sometimes it's just too easy. Point being, even if the good ones get buried....I search them out. Its hard on the 500+ comment posts though, 95% are usually totally pointless, which makes the whole discussion evaporate.

TwelveOhOne's picture

I've noticed ZH is being gamed.  Often people will respond to the first comment (and its children) without referring to any of the content in the comments.  This is so their comment will appear sooner when someone scrolls.  There's a limit to the indenting as well; once that limit is hit, new posts are added to the bottom of the final indented chain.

I too have made a thought-through comment which ended up far down and ignored; and I too have learned to "respond higher".

Here's a strategy you might use, which I just thought of and probably won't use: make a short comment, like ".", and then take time to gather and expand your thoughts, and edit the comment.

Also I'm working on a method to alert you when your comments have been replied to here.  It works so far but only sends direct child responses; I want to fix it to send children-of-children comments as well.  The email it sends includes one's original comment and the response, and "looks like ZH" although I wasn't able to use ZH's CSS (since Gmail ignores CSS -- styles have to be in-lined).

vato poco's picture

ZH comments aren't being *gamed*....they're being **attacked**.

once upon a time the ZH commentariat was something to behold. scary smart & sophisticated, and unparalleled at sniffing out bullshit, especially state-sponsored bullshit. I think this was eventually seen as a threat to (and by) TPTB, and a determination was made that this could not be allowed to stand - it might infect others, and eventually end up agitating the proles. can't have *that*!

how do you make a lion, or a 500-lb. gorilla move, if they don't want to? brute force won't work: they're too big & strong. but a swarm of irritating, insignificant little mosquitos? yeah, that'll do it.

enter the swarm of new commenters: "first!" "da JOOOZ!" etc etc. mission accomplished.

BabaLooey's picture

@ TwelveOhOne and vato poco

I have been here - in one form or another - for five + years. Don't let my current time clock fool you.

I too, have noticed a watering down here. I attribute it much to the infiltration of bots, fuckballs, and paid trolls from various jackholes.

You notice commenters "tagging on", or replying to the "firsties", in order to gain first page "notoriety". I have gone to doing the same.

At times, the sheer number of trolls, one line jackwads and butt hurt libtards totally take over threads, thereby rendering intelligent posts pushed to the bottom of the thread. It's - I'm sure - by design. 

The Tylers staff has their hands full, deleting faux posters and spammers. I am sure this is why you don't see the more intelligent commenters here anymore. They've either given up, or moved elsewhere. 

Twelve: I hope your "trick" works. Problem is, those same jackwads will also learn it too, if you post it. 

I don't post for green arrows. I ONLY come back to the threads to see what others I RESPECT have to say in reply. 

Threads here have a "shelf life" of less than a day most times, what with the amount of material the Tylers put out. 

Threads "wear" themselves out, as new material comes out - get pushed to page 2. I suppose it's a sign of success.

Zero Hedge has evolved from a small, fringe site, to a more internet main stream site, even though according to this list, ZH rose to a mere 59th in rankings of number of hits.

The roster of stupid sites above ZH shows that stupid is still firmly entrenched. (Huffy is ranked 11th). 

The difference you'll find  is that Huff, The Daily Cooze, has little to NO spanners, trolls or commenting interrupters. 

I wonder why THAT is?

Jack Ryan_00's picture

I look forward to your work. 

TwelveOhOne's picture

Thank you, the encouragement is very helpful.  I'm recovering from concussions so developing software is way harder than it used to be for me.

Lanka's picture

It has been obvious to the astute that Twitter was and still is populated by Soros and DNC looney bots.  Also the CEO is a worthless POS/whore.

Cheka_Mate's picture

Don't forget that the 2ND biggest share holder is a Saudi Prince 

Twitter is a giant House of Saud echo chamber 

Avoid at all costs...

yogibear's picture

Just like Zuckerberg charges it customers for fake customers.

Troy Ounce's picture


It's American so it is at best fake, at worst predatory.

Richard Chesler's picture


Thank you ex-president Obondinga with yor fake birth certificate, wife, children and everything else about you.


Skiprrrdog's picture
Grad Student Exposes Massive Network Of Over 350,000 Fake Twitter Accounts

When will they *never* learn; if they are not selling a product, YOU, and your CLICKS, ARE the product...

Syrin's picture

Look no further than the music industry.   If you are a great young band with a great sound, but don't have a big social media presence, venues and labels don't give you a second.  If you are a shit band with horrible music with all your songs in the key of B#, but have 50,000 Twitter followers, everyone will book you,   It's f;ing insane.

shovelhead's picture

You'd have to be a really good band because there is no key of B# in this dimension.

A half tone up from B is C.

Skiprrrdog's picture

Oh noooooooo... its the rise of the ZuckerBots...

wisebastard's picture

MSM and CIA trolling the people.....

wisebastard's picture

look at youtube trending.....that is placing is full of shit.....thats not what is popular on youtube....thats what the rated G walt disney dick hidden in plain sight nazi propaganda machines wants people to think is populare............. 

GUS100CORRINA's picture

Definitely an intelligence driven tool to create a narative!!! You might ask: Who would do such a thing?

The answer is: Any organization full of DESPOTS with REPROBATE MINDS led by a chief DESPOT. Sound familiar????


See movie "THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR starring Robert Redford" for more hints. 


venturen's picture

Well this would explain the Khardashian following

aVileRat's picture

You should look through the accounts which "follow" famous people sometime. Barack Obama and HRC were apparently really popular among Indian porn stars.

Its not just Twitter. You can run a parallel study over Facebook and find about twice this number of real:fake profiles kicking about. Dating sites are even worse.


James T. Kirk's picture

Another piece of the puzzle. The profound importance of this cannot be overstated, because both public opinion and marketing are shaped by this garbage.

carbonmutant's picture

The real issue is, what kind of content was flowing through those accounts?...

land_of_the_few's picture

What's the betting it is the same enslaved operatives spamming the comments at RT and elsewhere. After all they have been given millions to keep spouting the same increasingly ignored pro-globalist-serfdom sh1t by their ludicrously out-of touch political Kommissars. Many of whom will get the bullet, politically speaking, very soon indeed.

shovelhead's picture

You bet.

I can't count the sleepless night I have comtemplating the plethora of fake Twitter accounts and how it molds my life.

Really...I'm not kidding.


vato poco's picture

"plethora", o robotic one? that's an oddly....mechanical... choice of words.

Wage Slave 927's picture

Fake news, fake click farms, botnets of fake followers and Hillary's epidemic of fakery. Life in 2017.

GunnerySgtHartman's picture

Now be honest, is anyone really surprised by this?

It would be interesting to know how many of those bot accounts were shills for Hillary and/or Bernie.

earlyberd's picture

Sanders didn't need a bot army. He had actual supporters showing up at the polls.

That's real fucking democracy at work. Sanders had a wall of meat LONG before Trump got elected.

madmike117's picture

It is unfortunate that he was a total sell out and had no intention of following through on any of the ideas thet he supposedly stood for.

earlyberd's picture

Do you have difficulty reading body language?

Did you see the face of a sellout when he was giving his endorsement of Clinton? Personally I saw the face of a man that was threatened with being suicided. I've seen that same face every time I watched a middle manager getting cucked into firing an honest employee or would-be whistleblower.

Sanders is a terrible liar with regard to giving compliments toward the Clintons. Just looking at a photo you get the sense that he's either about to shit himself inside out, or he's doing his damndest to avoid cooter punching that wench directly into the sun.

Jesus christ, learn how to read people.

bamawatson's picture

obverse of ron paul coin
suck the air out of a movement
never accomplish a flippin thing
live fat n happy off .gov & your lemming cult members