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Monday 26.02.2018 | Name days: Mētra, Evelīna, Aurēlija

«Twitter bombs» may deliver late election surprise

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As US election day approaches, «Twitter bombs» are expected to fly as part of efforts to swing votes in a close race.

The «bombs,» a form of spam, are unsolicited Twitter responses which are retweeted with the help of automated computer programs, or «bots», to get maximum distribution. These are examples of cyber tricks which could surface in the final days of the US election campaign from candidates or, more likely, outside groups supporting a candidate or cause, writes AFP.

The «bomb» technique is as old as Twitter, and is similar to e-mail spam. Both can be used for commercial or political causes. Experts say it leads those receiving the messages to believe there is a groundswell, when in fact, the trend is being manipulated by those generating the message.

«This is a new way of propagating information or misinformation,» said Panagiotis Metaxas, a Wellesley College computer scientist who studies social media. «I suspect this will happen close to the final days of the election.»

Mexatas studied a case in the 2010 race for US Senate in Massachusetts, in which a «tweet factory» created in the final days of the campaign produced 1,000 tweets, which ended up being retweeted 60,000 times. The campaign came from a conservative group in Iowa, in support of Republican Scott Brown, who eventually won the race.

«I cannot tell if it made a measurable difference in the election,» Metaxas said. «But in a close race decided by a few hundred or a few thousand votes, this could be a factor.»

These efforts violate Twitter’s terms of service, but spammers often disguise their messages by tweaking hashtags or other parts of the messages. Twitter did not respond to an AFP query.

Experts say that Twitter bombs are not the only dirty tricks one can expect in cyberspace. Another is the «Google bomb» which can manipulate search results. Earlier this year, people searching Google for «completely wrong» got pictures of Mitt Romney. Another showed pictures of former president George W. Bush in a search for «miserable failure» in 2003, until Google modified its algorithms.

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