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New Fake Account Removals Highlight Twitter’s Bot Problem Once Again

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It’s no secret to anyone involved in social media circles that Twitter has a bot problem.

For years, users have complained about the impact of bots and fake accounts on the platform, and while various research reports have pegged Twitter’s fake profile levels at between 5% and 15%, their presence is likely more significant than that, with researchers repeatedly pointing to massive swarms of bot accounts being used for malicious purpose – in particular, to amplify certain political messages, and drown out opposing views through mass retweeting.

Twitter’s bot issue was highlighted once again this week, with the platform confirming that it had removed 20,000 fake accounts linked to the governments of Serbia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Honduras and Indonesia.

Twitter told The Guardian that these accounts “violated company policy and were part of a targeted attempt to undermine the public conversation”.

As per The Guardian:

“Of the accounts removed on Thursday, 8,558 were linked to the Serbian Progressive party (SNS) of Aleksandar Vučić, the president. The accounts had posted more than 43m tweets amplifying positive news coverage of Vučić’s government and attacking his political opponents. Twitter also removed a network of 5,350 accounts linked to the Saudi monarchy operating out of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Together they had tweeted 36.5m times praising the Saudi leadership or criticizing Qatar and Turkish activity in Yemen.”

This is a key, and common use of Twitter bot networks – earlier this year, a network of Twitter bots was found to be spreading misinformation about the Australian bushfire crisis and amplifying anti-climate change conspiracy theories in opposition to established facts. Those behind that campaign were never identified, nor did Twitter officially acknowledge this reported network. But it further adds to the perception that Twitter is still riddled with bot profiles, which can be mobilized, at any time, to amplify chosen messaging.

And such campaigns can be effective – late last year, a news story about a sick child sleeping on the floor of a Leeds hospital due to bed shortages at the facility went viral after a surge in claims from various Twitter accounts that the image was staged and/or entirely fake. 

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And those critical tweets bore some significant similarities.

UK hospital tweets

The hospital had confirmed that there was a bed shortage at the time, and that the story was, in fact, correct. But seemingly, a Twitter bot army had been employed to discredit the report, as part of a broader effort to ramp up support for the Tory party ahead of the UK election.

Those criticisms then spread to Facebook, using the exact same language again, and were even shared by some well-known UK celebrities, causing more people to question the report’s veracity. And while later investigations indicated that this was indeed a coordinated attempt to twist the truth, the damage was largely already done. The seeds of doubt had been sown, and the story had become another political weapon, which may well have influenced many voters in their eventual decision.

Clearly, Twitter bots can be a problem – and it is also worth noting that Twitter has been working to address the issue, with several solutions reportedly in consideration.

In 2018, as part of its attempts to rid its platform of misinformation, Twitter removed more than 70 million fake accounts, dealing a significant blow to fake profile operators. More recently, Twitter’s been working on a new bot labeling system, which would help users better understand which profiles are real people and which are not, while this month, Twitter also announced an update to its Developer API policy which specifically rules that:

“…developers clearly indicate (in their account bio or profile) if they are operating a bot account, what the account is, and who the person behind it is, so it’s easier for everyone on Twitter to know what’s a bot – and what’s not.”  

So, Twitter now has an official rule in place to call out bots, and eliminate bot networks for those that fail to comply. And this latest bot network discovery shows that it absolutely needs to enforce this, and take action against bots and fake profiles in order to stop mass-manipulation campaigns, and limit their potential influence, especially with respect to political initiatives.

It may well be, too, that the COVID-19 pandemic could play a part in this. Like all platforms, Twitter is working hard to detect and remove coronavirus misinformation, which is a crucial element in the battle against the spread of the virus. People need accurate, timely information and updates, and in its efforts to combat such, maybe Twitter is learning more about the networks behind these campaigns, and how it can refine its systems to better detect them and reduce their impact. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, more than ever, the key role that social platforms now play in providing information to the public, and with that, maybe we’ll see more action taken across the board to eliminate all forms of manipulative behavior, reducing its impacts. 

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We can only hope that Twitter is able to take more action on such – because while Twitter doesn’t have as many users as Facebook, it’s still highly influential. Twitter is the real-time news source of choice for many passionate newshounds and community leaders, and they take what they find and share it with their networks everywhere else. As highlighted by the Leeds hospital story, these bot pushes spread, and their influence stretches well beyond Twitter itself.

Even if you don’t use Twitter, and you don’t feel like such campaigns impact you and your opinions, they likely do, as they eventually trickle through to all corners of the web.

Twitter, of course, has various issues to deal with right now as it works to meet rising demand, while dealing with its own staffing impacts as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns. But in the wake of this, Twitter needs to take more action to address its bot issues.

Banning political ads on the platform is one thing, but banning bot swarms would likely have a much bigger positive impact in the case of tweets.   

Socialmediatoday.com

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Snapchat Says that Even Basic AR Executions Can Drive Audience Response

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Snapchat Says that Even Basic AR Executions Can Drive Audience Response

The use of AR is growing, with Snapchat reporting that over 250 million of its users – or 72% of its active user base – engage with AR elements in the app every day.

As AR technology continues to evolve, so too do the ways in which it can be used for more creative, engaging applications, including promotions – and as more brands lean into these types of advanced activations, that then raises the bar for others to also follow suit.

But creating AR isn’t as easy as, say, writing a blog post or creating a video clip. It takes technical knowledge, system know-how, it takes professional skill to create unique brand experiences in this more advanced medium.

Right?

Well, that’s not entirely correct.

On Snapchat, one of the leaders in AR, you can create basic AR experiences, even branded ones, via its Lens Web Builder platform, which provides access to a range of 3D objects, animations, and templates to facilitate the creation of AR campaigns.

There are more advanced options too, in Lens Studio, which does require more technical knowledge, but will produce a better, more customized, more unique result.

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But which is better – and do you need to go all-in on AR to create a resonant, effective campaign?

That’s what Snap sought to find out with its latest research report, partnering with Kantar to survey 7,800 people from the US, UK, France, and Saudi Arabia, to get their responses to simple AR Lenses, versus more sophisticated AR creative. 

As per Snap:

“The research found that simple AR can be just as performant as a sophisticated, custom Lens in driving both upper and lower-funnel metrics like brand awareness and purchase intent. Brands with the resources to execute a more sophisticated Lens will see additional benefits in mid-funnel brand metrics, including favorability and consideration.”

Snapchat Lens data

So you don’t necessarily need to go too deep into 3D architecture to create resonant AR campaigns for your business – though if you can, it will help.

Snapchat does note, however, that the results vary by industry – and likely by campaign:

“For example, in the Auto category, we saw that both simple and sophisticated AR experiences drove brand awareness, proving there is value to both executions, depending on the goals of the campaign.”

Again, you don’t need to have most amazing, world-transforming AR execution to derive optimal benefits, but you do need to have creative nous, and an understanding of how that activation, like any ad, drives audience response.

“When we look at a category like Beauty – where the application of lipstick or mascara in AR can change the color of the user’s lips or extend their lashes – we saw that simple Lens executions can perform just as well in brand awareness and purchase intent as more sophisticated experiences.”

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This example underlines the importance of factoring in the purpose of your promotion, and how AR can help in that, as opposed to using it as a gimmick or a perspective-alerting overlay.

Those can be great too, but there are also practical, valuable ways in which you can utilize simple AR executions within your promotions, which don’t require a doctorate in digital architecture or technology.

Which is interesting to note – and if you are interested, it’s worth checking out Lens Web Builder, or downloading Lens Studio to get a feel for what’s possible, and how you can create AR experiences in the app.

It’s not necessarily simple – I’ve messed around with AR tools at different times, and have created various Lenses that look okay, but are probably not fit for public consumption. But with a little persistence and effort, you can create reasonably good looking effects that could work for your promotions.

You can learn more about Snap’s Lens creation process here.

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