“Endless Mayfly” was an operation that set out to create fake websites intended to spread information through inauthentic media outlets using online personas based on internet robots. The term “Mayfly” developed from an insect that lived underwater for years, but once hatched as adults, live only briefly.
In April 2016, false information spread throughout the globe via Twitter. People along with bots set out to destroy the names and reputations of political individuals in Western countries, such as Israel. The false information that was created, posted and linked made its way to the national level during what was an intense political climate, much like the one that we are experiencing today. So, how do we identify false Twitter personas today? Brad Conaway, Integrated Marketing Communications professor and social media specialist at the University of Mississippi offered us his insight.
“They [Twitter officials] are counting on users to identify and report accounts that they believe are fake or are spreading disinformation. How can you identify and spot a bot? Look at the profile. Is the avatar an egg? A beautiful woman or an attractive man? Has the account posted the same thing over and over? If they’ve tweeted 130K times… That’s definitely a warning sign.”
Identifying a false account might not sound straightforward, but unfortunately in today’s climate, detecting these accounts has never been more difficult. Studies found as many as 48 million Twitter accounts aren’t people. But what’s worse, when the public is aware of fake accounts presenting inaccurate information, it discounts the ability of social media to deliver news in any context.
“When people can’t tell the difference between facts and nonsense, they begin to lose faith in the notion of objective truth. When someone doesn’t know how to tell if something is legitimately true, they can’t tell who they should trust, and they’ll fall for someone who is the loudest or the most emotionally manipulative,” Conaway said.
So, when it comes to social media, how can we find the truth? Or has the question turned into can we even still can find the truth? In a particularly intense election year, the public is searching far and wide for information. Turning to news outlets, media websites, and social media, the public is looking for answers. The false Twitter personas are sure enough providing answers, and when a vulnerable member of the population stumbles upon false content, there is danger in their consumption.
“When you have no respect for the truth, or no ability to tell the difference between facts and opinions, you can be easily motivated by base emotions like anger. You can be tricked into hating people who are different than you (in appearance, and beliefs), and ultimately this could, and most likely will lead to some real-world post-election violence,” Conaway said.
False social media personas, across each platform, have the ability to delegitimize all information and communication associated with the network. When used correctly, social media is powerful. It can be used to play a powerful role in any nation’s conversations. It will take a lot of work and acknowledgment to get to that point. Education of the matter can get us there.