The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously had a tremendous impact on
the way we consume media and interact on social media. We can’t
scroll through our feeds without coming across an article, opinion,
or video that is somehow related to the pandemic. But with so much
content, we need to be careful about what we believe and share.
In this article, we’ll briefly discuss how fake news, trolls,
and bots are impacting social media during the pandemic.
Social media is generally used for the sake of interacting with
other people in a light-hearted way. Even people who use their real
social media profiles to troll others don’t tend to go overboard
when their identity is known.
We’ve previously discussed how
social media can be a tool in hybrid warfare, which is still
happening today. In short, troll farms use tactics to spread
propaganda on the internet.
Twitter and Instagram are two social media
platforms that are currently doing what they can to detect strange
behavior. This could include mass following and unfollowing of
other users, posting a lot of content at once, or consistently
using banned hashtags. Unfortunately, as bots become better at
mimicking people and using language in a natural way, it will be
difficult to stop propaganda from becoming a trending topic and
taking over more space on social media.
Coronavirus discourse: Bot or not?
Bots by definition aren’t real people. They make someone
believe they are interacting with a real person when they’re
actually talking to a non-existent being. Bots can use hashtags
and post content that can ultimately influence the algorithm of
different social media platforms.
You might be surprised to learn that
almost half of the Twitter accounts tweeting about COVID-19 are
bots, according to researchers from Carnegie Mellon University.
It can be difficult to
discern a troll or a bot from a real person, but there are some
signs that can indicate whether the discussion you’re having
online is real.
Here are a few things you can watch out for:
- Was the account made recently?
- Do they have a bio/caption? Is the caption filled with only
- How many followers do they have? Do the accounts mutually
follow each other?
- How often do they post content? Are there times when they
don’t post at all?
Bot Sentinel analysis had spotted bots and trolls attempting to
influence lockdown and quarantine protests with hashtags like
#ReopenAmericaNow and #StopTheMadness on Twitter. What was the
content of their posts? Here’s a short rundown:
- Political parties want to prevent people from voting
- Someone is trying to hurt the economy and make the US president
- Inaccurate statistics about the virus mortality rate
According to the researchers at Carnegie Mellon University there
are also tweets about other conspiracy theories. These include
topics such as the 5G towers making people more susceptible to
catch the virus, or how hospitals are filled with mannequins.
Bot Sentinel suggests that there is more damaging content on
Twitter than we may realize. However, a Twitter spokesperson
disputed the claims made by Bot Sentinel, saying that they’re
simply prioritizing content with calls-to-action that can cause
So for example, the tweet below wonâ€™t be taken down because it
doesnâ€™t directly tell the readers to do something. Even if the
tweet is attempting to instill hostility, it technically might not
breach Twitterâ€™s Terms of Service.
We need to remember that troll farms exist. These are
essentially people who could be paid to push political agendas by
spreading disinformation. Donâ€™t confuse them with bots,
Canadaâ€™s Chief of Defence said that there are already signs
that people are trying to take advantage of uncertainty and fear
Bill Gates is being constantly harassed by trolls online who
have hidden their identity. Heâ€™s regularly accused of attempting
to microchip the population by endorsing the creation of a COVID-19
vaccine. At the moment,
Russian and Chinese â€œtroll farmsâ€ and officials are being
accused of spreading various conspiracy theories.
Social media platforms and fact-checking
We showed you how disinformation can be spread on social media,
now weâ€™ll show you how social media platforms handle it.
Bots, trolls, and real-life uninformed people who post about the
conspiracy have different intentions. Still, their posts are
being taken down on social media because they have the potential to
do significant damage. Several news outlets such as
The Hill have reported that some states had a spike in cases
shortly after the protests.
Whatâ€™s more, there are other casualties and damages being done
because of the spread of disinformation. For example,
security guards and
store clerks are being physically assaulted because theyâ€™re
informing their patrons that they must wear a mask to shop at their
location. These are just a few examples of the severe consequences
that social media platforms and organizations are trying to prevent
in a variety of ways.
Statista in 2019, over 500 hours of video content were uploaded
to YouTube per minute. Itâ€™s clearly a platform with an abundance
of content. But how do they manage to prevent users from spreading
harmful or inaccurate content?
In YouTubeâ€™s case, theyâ€™ve regularly spread out CTAs related
to COVID-19 on both:
interviews and media networksâ€™ financial affiliations are made
clear underneath the videos for transparency. These are small
things that eventually make it easier to prevent disinformation
from being spread to a wider audience.
Some videos were completely removed from YouTube due to the
amount of unverified information.
Twitter and Facebook
Itâ€™s also worth remembering that Twitter
is finally going to put up information about which COVID-19
tweets are fake news. Apparently, it will be similar to how
Facebook has been labeling false information on its platform:
This is the real test.
â€” Donie Oâ€™Sullivan (@donie)
May 11, 2020
Hereâ€™s Facebook for a comparison:
Facebook is taking down content that encourages anti-quarantine
activities. So if youâ€™ve seen content that promotes not wearing a
mask, going to the beach, or about how doctors are lying, itâ€™s
likely that it was taken down soon after. Facebook has done this
rather well since they provide the exact source where they got
their information from. That way, you can learn more about how they
How organizations can fight back against
Now that youâ€™re aware of the intensity of the spread of
disinformation, letâ€™s take a look at how organizations and
institutions are fighting back.
Warsawâ€™s own POLIN museum had to fight back against
attacks in 2018 when they opened another exhibition. Through our
cooperation, they were able to get some insight into what was going
on. Hereâ€™s what their Deputy Marketing Manager had to say about
In 2018, when the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
opened an exhibition about the anti-Semitic witch-hunt in Poland in
March 1968, there were intensified attacks on the Museum in social
media. The trolling analysis carried out at the time showed, among
others, the operation of groups of profiles publishing exactly the
same content in different places on Facebook at the same time. In
addition to content directed against the museum, those profiles
also often published content that showed Germany and the European
Union in a bad light.
MaÅ‚gorzata ZajÄ…c, Deputy Marketing Manager
Meanwhile, UNESCO is
an organization that was assembled by the United Nations and is
currently teamed up with WHO. They endorse peace by having
countries cooperate across the fields of education, science, and
culture. Since theyâ€™re concerned with promoting science, they
regularly share fact-checked information from reputable sources.
Whatâ€™s more, theyâ€™re encouraging their followers to be
skeptical about information from unreliable sources. Here are a
few of the hashtags that theyâ€™ve been using to promote this
message on Twitter:
And here are a few examples of their social media posts that
promote media literacy:
Not all â€˜expertsâ€™ online are trustworthy, be aware of
the existence of false experts!
â€” UNESCO Bangkok (@unescobangkok)
May 16, 2020
â“How to distinguish facts
from opinions in a news article?
â€” UNESCO MILCLICKS (@MILCLICKS)
May 13, 2020
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also regularly
posts on their Facebook Page in a similar manner.
If you open the comments on the CDCâ€™s posts, youâ€™ll notice a
mix of responses. Most responses are supportive or asking
questions. However, there are some comments that definitely require
moderation or tending to.
There are a few users whose profiles seem like bots for a few
reasons. For example, they donâ€™t respond to their mentions in
a natural way. Instead, it seems that they are more or less
repeating mantras or quotes out of context. Some of them
even link to viral conspiracy theory videos in a spammy way,
which is a good enough reason to delete or hide the comment,
At some point, there might be more than a few intensely negative
comments. If you start to see a flurry of incoming comments that
just disparage you and your credibility, thereâ€™s a chance that
youâ€™re a victim of a planned attack. But you wonâ€™t be able
to know unless you look into it on a deeper level.
Analysis of fake accounts and activities
Itâ€™s important to be aware of the current situation that your
brand or institution is in. This is where Sotrenderâ€™s report on
activities would help you:
- Figure out if trolls and fake accounts are posting anything on
- Learn if you were a victim of a coordinated attack
- How much impact this had on your online presence and if you
should take further action
Essentially, you will be able to plan content that will
improve your image and you will be better prepared to handle
potential crises in the future.
If youâ€™re interested in this type of report, feel free to
contact our Sales
Team to get more information.
If youâ€™re running a Facebook Page that acquires a lot of
engagement, itâ€™s worth paying attention to what users are saying.
Itâ€™s difficult to sift through all of the comments on all of your
posts, especially to narrow down on the negative ones.
Unfortunately, Facebook doesnâ€™t allow you to filter your comments
social sentiment. However, you have other options.
learning-powered social inbox allows you to connect your
Facebook profile and manage your comments and messages from one
tab. The feature offers a variety of functions to make your social
media management tasks easier.
- You will save time looking for negative comments by using the
social sentiment filters
- Keep all comment history from the moment of activation, meaning
you will know if a user has a history of leaving disparaging
- A report detailing the effectiveness of the interactions
between you and the users on your Page. No statistics background
Learning how to
prevent crises and manage comments on your own is an important
component of managing a social media profile. Thatâ€™s why we
recommend you learn how to do it efficiently and use a tool that
will make it all easier.
Stay safe and share knowledge online
Weâ€™ve gone over a lot of information, so here are the
- Dissemination of unverified information happens regularly
- Social media platforms are starting to recognize the real
dangers of not monitoring content
- Organizations are using social media to combat misconceptions
and purposeful deception
- Itâ€™s crucial that you prepare for any cyber-attacks and know
what to expect
Hopefully, you now know how itâ€™s possible to fight back
against these issues. Finally, we do recommend that you take some
time away from social media. Being exposed to damaging content
regularly can definitely take a toll on you, so do your best to be
responsible and to take care of yourself!
Source: FS – Social Media Blogs 1
Fighting disinformation, trolls, and bots on social media