Someone thinks I need sunglasses. Another desires that I have running shoes. Many (it seems) want to tell me how to write. I am offered a myriad of ways to publish onLine. There have been a few (too few?) wishing to ease my cares by exciting my libido. Self-promotion, it seems, is the way to go if someone first shows you how to do it. But I must plaintively ask - why am I never given the chance to be tempted by wine and onions?
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Are You Following a Bot?
How to manipulate social movements by hacking Twitter
By ANDY ISAACSO
IMAGE CREDIT: LEO ESPINOSA
ONE DAY LAST February, a Twitter user in California named Billy received a tweet from @JamesMTitus, identified in his profile as a “24 year old dude” from Christchurch, New Zealand, who had the avatar of a tabby cat. “If you could bring one character to life from your favorite book, who would it be?,” @JamesMTitus asked. Billy tweeted back, “Jesus,” to which @JamesMTitus replied: “honestly? no fracking way. ahahahhaa.” Their exchange continued, and Billy began following @JamesMTitus. It probably never occurred to him that the Kiwi dude with an apparent love of cats was, in fact, a robot.
JamesMTitus was manufactured by cyber-security specialists in New Zealand participating in a two-week social-engineering experiment organized by the Web Ecology Project. Based in Boston, the group had conducted demographic analyses of Chatroulette and studies of Twitter networks during the recent Middle East protests. It was now interested in a question of particular concern to social-media experts and marketers: Is it possible not only to infiltrate social networks, but also to influence them on a large scale?
The group invited three teams to program “social bots”—fake identities—that could mimic human conversation on Twitter, and then picked 500 real users on the social network, the core of whom shared a fondness for cats. The Kiwis armed JamesMTitus with a database of generic responses (“Oh, that’s very interesting, tell me more about that”) and designed it to systematically test parts of the network for what tweets generated the most responses, and then to talk to the most responsive people.