It happens all the time. You open your Facebook and find a new friend request; zero mutual friends, no information, but a smoking hot profile picture.
Don’t flatter yourself. According to an Oxford University study, it’s more than likely not a “her” but is instead a bot account created to get fake pro-Putin news into your feed.
The Computational Propaganda Project, the team behind the study, says the political actors use bots to manipulate conversations, demobilize opposition, and generate false support on popular social media sites.
While the bots target both politically left and right leaning users, the study finds that it’s higher and more successful among Twitter users than Facebook. The bot would follow trending hashtags within the veteran community, such as #GoArmy and #Iraq, to find their target.
The account would have a generic name and a profile picture of an attractive person to lure users in. Once they’ve accepted or followed back, then it’s on.
John D. Gallacher, Oxford Professor of Cognitive Health, explains in his study that they analyzed data from subgroups of Twitter and Facebook users to target U.S. military personnel and veterans with junk news about military affairs, misinformation, and conspiracy theories.
To explain how this all would play out Barney-style: Something happens and it’s in the Kremlin’s best interest that Americans think of it a certain way. A programmer would create thousands of fake accounts that search for U.S. troops and veterans.
If they are successful in luring the troop or veteran in, they are barraged with a mix of fake news and legitimate content until the seed of doubt blooms.
Virginia Democrat Sen. Mark Warner told CNN that the epidemic of fake social media accounts is far larger than it appears. He told CNN the the 470 accounts Facebook identified as pro-Kremlin bots “doesn’t pass the smell test.” He further explained that prior to the recent French presidential election, Facebook took down over 30,000 bot accounts.
It should be noted however, that Russian journalists and activists are reportedly trying to take down the “troll farms” that spread misinformation across Europe and the United States.