Past week, I came across two programming initiatives to uncover Twitter bots and one attempt to identify fake Instagram accounts.

Mike Kearney developed the R package botornot which applies machine learning to estimate the probability that a Twitter user is a bot. His default model is a gradient boosted model trained using both users-level (bio, location, number of followers and friends, etc.) and tweets-level information (number of hashtags, mentions, capital letters, etc.). This model is 93.53% accurate when classifying bots and 95.32% accurate when classifying non-bots. His faster model uses only the user-level data and is 91.78% accurate when classifying bots and 92.61% accurate when classifying non-bots. Unfortunately, the models did not classify my account correctly (see below), but you should definitely test yourself and your friends via this Shiny application.

Fun fact: botornot can be integrated with Mike’s rtweet package

Scraping Dirty Bots

At around the same time, I read this very interesting blog by Andy Patel. Annoyed by the fake Twitter accounts that kept liking and sharing his tweets, Andy wrote a Python script called pronbot_search. It’s an iterative search algorithm which Andy seeded with the dozen fake Twitter accounts that he identified originally. Subsequently, the program iterated over the friends and followers of each of these fake users, looking for other accounts displaying similar traits (e.g., similar description, including an URL to a sex-website called “Dirty Tinder”).

Whenever a new account was discovered, it was added to the query list, and the process continued. Because of the Twitter API restrictions, the whole crawling process took literal days before Andy manually terminated it. The results are just amazing:

After a day, the results looked like so. Notice the weird clusters of relationships in this network. [original]
The full bot network uncovered by Andy included 22.000 fake Twitter accounts:

At the end of the weekend of March 10th, Andy had to stop the scraper after running for several days even though he had only processed 18% of the networks of the 22.000 included Twitter bots [original]
The bot network on Twitter is probably enormous! Zooming in on the network, Andy notes that:

Pretty much the same pattern I’d seen after one day of crawling still existed after one week. Just a few of the clusters weren’t “flower” shaped.

Andy Patel, March 2018, link

Zoomed in to a specific part of the network you can see the separate clusters of bots doing little more than liking each others messages. [original]
In his blog, Andy continues to look at all kind of data on these fake accounts. I found most striking that many of these account are years and years old already. Potentially, Twitter can use Mike Kearney’s botornot application to spot and remove them!

Most of the bots in the Dirty Tinder network found by Andy Patel were 3 to 8 years old already. [original]
Andy was nice enough to share the data on these bot accounts here, for you to play with. His Python code is stored in the same github repo and more details around this project you can read in his original blog.

Fake Instagram Accounts

Finally, SRFdata (Timo Grossenbacher) attempted to uncover fake Instagram followers among the 7 million followers in the network of 115 important Swiss Instagram influencers in R. Magi Metrics was used to retrieve information for public Instagram accounts and rvest for private accounts. Next, clear fake accounts (e.g., little followers, following many, no posts, no profile picture, numbers in name) were labelled manually, and approximately 10% of the inspected 1000 accounts appeared fake. Finally, they trained a random forest model to classify fake accounts with a sensitivity (true negative) rate of 77.4% and an overall accuracy of around 94%.