The new version of Botometer employs updated machine learning algorithms to identify "bots" with greater accuracy and is strongly integrated with Hoaxy. Users can observe not only how information spreads across Twitter, but also whether these messages are mostly shared by real people or pushed by a computer program potentially designed to sway public opinion.
Automated accounts are commonly used to give the false impression that a large number of people are speaking about a specific topic online, Menczer said. Political campaigns, celebrities and advertisers are known to use bots to push specific agendas or products.
The updated Hoaxy also has a "trending stories" section that displays popular news stories along with claims from low-credibility sources. This is possible because Hoaxy can now trace the spread of any online news story or hashtag over time across Twitter. Previously, users could only analyze headlines from specific websites identified by nonpartisan groups as likely to post false or misleading information.
Ciampaglia said Hoaxy and Botometer currently process hundreds of thousands of daily online queries. The technology has enabled researchers, including a team at IU, to study how information flows online in the presence of bots. Examples are a study on the cover of the March issue of Science that analyzed the spread of false news on Twitter and an analysis from the Pew Research Center in April that found that nearly two-thirds of the links to popular websites on Twitter are shared by automated accounts.
The newly launched project is Fakey, a web and mobile news literacy game that mixes news stories with false reports, clickbait headlines, conspiracy theories and "junk science." Players earn points by "fact-checking" false information and liking or sharing accurate stories. The project, led by IU graduate student Mihai Avram, was created to help people develop responsible social media consumption habits. An Android app is available, and an iOS versions will launch shortly.
All three tools are united through their creators' goal to help individuals understand the role of misinformation online, Menczer said.
"By partnering with other groups," he added, "we're able to significantly amplify the power of our work in the fight against online disinformation."