the New York Times: “…the biggest problem with Twitter’s place in the news is its role in the production and dissemination of propaganda and misinformation. It keeps pushing conspiracy theories — and because lots of people in the media, not to mention many news consumers, don’t quite understand how it works, the precise mechanism is worth digging into….Here’s how.
The guts of the news business.
One way to think of today’s disinformation ecosystem is to picture it as a kind of gastrointestinal tract…. Twitter often acts as the small bowel of digital news. It’s where political messaging and disinformation get digested, packaged and widely picked up for mass distribution to cable, Facebook and the rest of the world.
This role for Twitter has seemed to grow more intense during (and since) the 2016 campaign. Twitter now functions as a clubhouse for much of the news. It’s where journalists pick up stories, meet sources, promote their work, criticize competitors’ work and workshop takes. In a more subtle way, Twitter has become a place where many journalists unconsciously build and gut-check a worldview — where they develop a sense of what’s important and merits coverage, and what doesn’t.
This makes Twitter a prime target for manipulators: If you can get something big on Twitter, you’re almost guaranteed coverage everywhere….
Twitter is clogged with fake people.
For determined media manipulators, getting something big on Twitter isn’t all that difficult. Unlike Facebook, which requires people to use their real names, Twitter offers users essentially full anonymity, and it makes many of its functions accessible to outside programmers, allowing people to automate their actions on the service.
As a result, numerous cheap and easy-to-use online tools let people quickly create thousands of Twitter bots — accounts that look real, but that are controlled by a puppet master.
Twitter’s design also promotes a slavish devotion to metrics: Every tweet comes with a counter of Likes and Retweets, and users come to internalize these metrics as proxies for real-world popularity….
They may ruin democracy.
…. the more I spoke to experts, the more convinced I became that propaganda bots on Twitter might be a growing and terrifying scourge on democracy. Research suggests that bots are ubiquitous on Twitter. Emilio Ferrara and Alessandro Bessi, researchers at the University of Southern California, found that about a fifth of the election-related conversation on Twitter last year was generated by bots. Most users were blind to them; they treated the bots the same way they treated other users….
in a more pernicious way, bots give us an easy way to doubt everything we see online. In the same way that the rise of “fake news” gives the president cover to label everything “fake news,” the rise of bots might soon allow us to dismiss any online enthusiasm as driven by automation. Anyone you don’t like could be a bot; any highly retweeted post could be puffed up by bots….(More)”.