(PatrioticPost.com)- A new study has found that bots were used as one of the main ways to spread disinformation about COVID-19 on Facebook.
Researchers from the University of California San Diego led an in-depth look into activity on Facebook, and were researchers at both Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University.
What they studied was links that were included on more than 300,000 Facebook posts into groups on the social media site. Most of the posts related to the wearing of masks.
The researchers looked at the timing of the links that were share din the groups so they could measure the activity that was done by bots. Signs of activity from bots were having many posts that included the same link in various groups a few seconds apart from each other, and frequent sharing of certain posts.
As Dr. John Ayers, a public health surveillance scientist at the University of California San Diego who was the lead author of the study, said:
“The coronavirus pandemic has sparked what the World Health Organization has called an ‘infodemic’ of misinformation. But, bots … have been overlooked as a source of COVID-19 misinformation.”
From their research, the teams are asking social media giants such as Facebook to tighten their restrictions on how people post to the platform, and to try to limit the activity of bots. At the same time, though, some public health experts still believe it isn’t a good idea for big tech companies to censor this misinformation.
Much of that discussion now comes as new information is coming to light. What was once thought to be misinformation is being re-examined. This includes whether the coronavirus could actually have escaped from a lab in China.
One link that the researchers studied was a post that covered a Denmark study finding only inconclusive data on whether mask wearing actually reduced COVID-19 transmission. Many people used that story as a source of misinformation as they misinterpreted the results of the study. It was then shared by many people on Facebook, and on other social media sites.
The researchers found this post was shared multiple times by multiple accounts to various groups in only seconds. This was a major sign that accounts that were sharing the post came from bots that were operating within a single network.
The researchers found that nearly 40% of the times that particular post was shared, it was done in a way that they would’ve deemed it bot activity.
One of the posts that was shared in this realm said the Danish researchers found wearing masks was actually harmful. That conclusion never actually appeared in the Danish research, though.
Brian Chu, one of the co-authors of the study who is a medical student, explained:
“Bots also appear to be undermining critical public health institutions. In our case study, bots mischaracterized a prominent publication from a prestigious medical journal to spread misinformation. This suggests that no content is safe from the dangers of weaponized misinformation.”