Tag Archives: twitter

Half of Twitter accounts discussing ‘reopening America’ are bots

Roughly half of the 200 million tweets related to the virus published since January were sent by accounts that appear to be bots. They seem to have a particular interest in the conversation about ‘reopening America’ and are dominating the discourse on this topic.

Sowing discord

Unfortunately, Twitter bots aren’t as cute as these ones. Image credits: Eric Krull.

Scrolling through your Twitter feed, you might ignore most of what’s going on and focus only on what draws your eye. But even if you’d pay attention to every single story, you’d likely not be to tell which were posted by a bot, and which by an actual person.

Researchers use a multitude of methods to tell whether posts come from humans or artificial accounts, and some of these methods rely on artificial intelligence. in general, however, researchers look at factors such as the number of followers, when an account was created, how often they tweet, and at what hours. Sometimes, things line up too perfectly: new accounts, with similar follower profiles, posting at similar times, about the same hashtags. Other times, the tells are even clearer.

“Tweeting more frequently than is humanly possible or appearing to be in one country and then another a few hours later is indicative of a bot,” said Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. Carley is conducting a study into bot-generated coronavirus activity on Twitter that has yet to be published.

Carley and colleagues collected more than 200 million tweets discussing the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. They found that 82% of the top 50 influential retweeters on these topics are bots. Out of the top 1,000, 62% are bots.

These bots also seem to not be acting randomly. Instead, the stories they propagate seem to have the aim of polarizing public discourse.

“We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that,” she adds.

Furthermore, bot activity seems to be two times more intense than what researchers would expect based on previous natural disasters, further supporting the idea that this is a deliberate campaign.

While finding a smoking gun will be extremely difficult, researchers are fairly confident that this is an active campaign and not just random bot activity.

That conspiracy theory you read? It could be fueled by a bot

The team found 100 types of inaccurate COVID-19 stories propagated by Twitter bots, ranging from unproven cures to conspiracy theories about hospitals being filled with mannequins, or 5G fearmongering.

These actions have already had tangible real-life consequences. For instance, several 5G towers in England have been destroyed by vandals as members of the public fell victim to conspiracy theories spread on social media.

But the larger stake is shifting public discourse and polarizing people. A good example for this is the ‘reopening America’ discussion.

Researchers found strong indicators that this discussion is orchestrated by bot activity. Accounts that are definitely bots generate 34% of all tweets about this topic, and accounts that seem to be either bots or humans with bot assistants produce over 60% of the tweets.

“When we see a whole bunch of tweets at the same time or back to back, it’s like they’re timed,” Carley said. “We also look for use of the same exact hashtag, or messaging that appears to be copied and pasted from one bot to the next.”

“Increased polarization will have a variety of real-world consequences, and play out in things like voting behavior and hostility towards ethnic groups,” Carley said.

What you can do

We are the gate keepers of our social media. Credits: dole777.

While the researchers have not found any indication of who might be behind these bots, they say it’s important for all of us to be vigilant with what we read on social media — and especially what we share forward.

We are the gatekeepers of our own social media bubble, and it pays to double-check everything against a reliable source. Even if someone appeals to your bias and says exactly what you want to hear, don’t just buy into it. This has never been more important.

In addition, researchers say we should be particularly careful with accounts we don’t know personally. Most users have long surpassed the point where they are social media friends only with their real-life acquaintances and follow a variety of accounts and pages. Many might be malevolent.

“Even if someone appears to be from your community, if you don’t know them personally, take a closer look, and always go to authoritative or trusted sources for information,” Carley said. “Just be very vigilant.”

The ‘you may know me from’ meme is awesome for explaining your job

If you’ve been paying attention to Twitter recently, you’ve probably noticed a new meme that pokes fun at some of the silly questions we get about our jobs — which happens a lot in science. It’s a reference to The Simpsons’ classic character Troy McClure, who would introduce himself along the lines of “Hi, I’m Troy McClure. You may know me from classic hits such as …”. As you’d expect from Twitter, they turned that into pure gold. Here’s an example:

https://twitter.com/10MinuteHistory/status/1086610448772931584

My favorite, however, was the climate scientists — yes, we also get a lot of comments and emails like this.

Other academics were all over it.

https://twitter.com/EscoBlades/status/1087429605861048320?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1087429605861048320&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fmashable.com%2Farticle%2Fyou-may-know-me-from-meme-twitter%2F

The meme caught on quickly, spreading like wildfire.

https://twitter.com/IanColdwater/status/1087040954761166848?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1087040954761166848&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fmashable.com%2Farticle%2Fyou-may-know-me-from-meme-twitter%2F

At the time of writing this, there are over 400 replies to Doug Priest’s tweet alone.

Here’s one that is bound to stir some spirits:

Hi, I’m a science communicator for ZME Science. You may know me from greatest hits including “Yes, this is based on research,” “We can’t teach the controversy,” and “Sorry, that’s not research, that’s a Google search.”

Robot human hand.

The Twitter discussion around vapes is grand — and 70% filled with bots

Huh. I wonder who could possibly stand to benefit from this.

Robot human hand.

Image via Tumisu / Pixabay.

Social media discussions around e-cigarettes and their effects on human health may largely be driven by bots, a new paper reports. The study, led by researchers from the San Diego State University (SDSU), dredged the depths of Twitter to study the use and perceptions of e-cigarettes in the United States. The team planned to gain a better understanding of the people talking about vaping but instead found that most such users aren’t even people.

Smoking gun

The study started with a random sample of almost 194,000 geocoded tweets from across the United States posted between October 2015 and February 2016. Out of these, the team drew 973 random tweets and analyzed them for sentiment and source — i.e. from an individual or an organization, for example. Out of these, 887 tweets were identified as posted by individuals, a category that includes potential bots.

More than 66% of tweets from individuals used a supportive tone when talking about the use of e-cigarettes. About 59 percent of individuals also shared tweets about how they personally used e-cigarettes. The team was also able to identify adolescent Twitter users and over 55% of their tweets related to e-cigarettes used a positive tone. In tweets that gave reference to the harmfulness of e-cigarettes, 54% held that e-cigarettes are not harmful, or that they are significantly less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

The study raises an important question, however. To what extent are these debates our own, and to what extent are they promoted as ‘mainstream’ and ‘widely accepted’ in order to spin public discourse and sell more products? Over 70% of the tweets the team looked at seem to be penned by bots, the researchers report. So there are more chipsets than brains participating in this conversation. To add injury to the insult, these bots pose as real people in an attempt to promote products and sway public opinion on the topic of their health effects.

“We are not talking about accounts made to represent organizations, or a business or a cause. These accounts are made to look like regular people,” said Lourdes Martinez, paper co-author. “This raises the question: To what extent is the public health discourse online being driven by robot accounts?”

And the discovery came on by accident. The team set out to use Twitter data to study what actual people discuss about on the topic of e-cigarettes. However, during their research, the team realized they were, in fact, dealing with a lot of bot accounts.

Bots ahoy

Mask smoke.

Hello, fellow humans. I am also human. I like to vape with my lung.

After observing anomalies in the dataset, namely related to confusing and illogical posts about e-cigarettes and vaping, the team reviewed user types and decided to reclassify them. They specifically made an effort to identify accounts that appeared to be operated by robots.

“Robots are the biggest challenges and problems in social media analytics,” said Ming-Hsiang Tsou, founding director of SDSU’s Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age and co-author on the study.

“Since most of them are ‘commercial-oriented’ or ‘political-oriented,’ they will skew the analysis results and provide wrong conclusions for the analysis.”

The findings come just one month after Twitter purged its user base of millions of suspicious and fake accounts. The platform also announced it will launch new mechanisms aimed at identifying and fighting spam and other types of abuse on its virtual lands.

Tsou appreciates the effort and says that “some robots can be easily removed based on their content and behaviors,” while others “look exactly like human beings and can be more difficult to detect.”

“This is a very hot topic now in social media analytics research,” he says.

“The lack of awareness and need to voice a public health position on e-cigarettes represents a vital opportunity to continue winning gains for tobacco control and prevention efforts through health communication interventions targeting e-cigarettes,” the team wrote in the paper.

Martinez thinks public health agencies and organizations must make an effort to become more aware of the conversations happening on social media if they hope to have a chance of keeping the general public informed in the face of all of these bots.

“We do not know the source, or if they are being paid by commercial interests,” Martinez said. “Are these robot accounts evading regulations? I do not know the answer to that. But that is something consumers deserve to know, and there are some very clear rules about tobacco marketing and the ways in which it is regulated.”

The paper ““Okay, We Get It. You Vape”: An Analysis of Geocoded Content, Context, and Sentiment regarding E-Cigarettes on Twitter” has been published in the Journal of Health Communication.

Twitter.

Analysis of over 800 million tweets reveals how our thought patterns shift throughout the day

Our minds follow different patterns of thought throughout the day, social media analysis reveals.

Twitter.

Image via Maxpixel.

How does one glean insight into the human mind? One method is to look at tweets. Many tweets. Some 800-million tweets, judging by a novel study. The paper, published by University of Bristol researchers studied thinking behaviors by analyzing over seven billion words tweeted by Britons throughout the day over the past four years — and report that two main factors influence how we think throughout the day.

Thought swings

“The analysis of media content, when done correctly, can reveal useful information for both social and biological sciences,” said Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and lead researcher. “We are still trying to learn how to make the most of it.”

The team of researchers, with a strong background in both artificial intelligence (AI) and medicine, used AI software to analyze aggregated, anonymized UK Twitter content to understand how our minds work. The material was sampled every hour over the course of four years across 54 of the UK’s largest cities.

The researchers tracked the use of specific words, associated with 74 psychometric indicators, across the sample — which they then used to interpret the underlying thinking style. The results suggest that our thinking patterns change throughout the day, and follow a roughly 24-hour cycle.

Although they tracked 73 different psychometric qualities, the team found that it all boiled down to two independent factors that explain most of the variation seen in the dataset.

The first pattern of thought, the team reports, is a more analytically-inclined one. It seems to peak at around 5 to 6 am. Tweets sent out around this hour used words and an overall language style previously shown to correlate with more logical patterns of thought. They included a high ratio of nouns, articles, and prepositions, which the team notes have previously been linked to intelligence, academic performance, and education.

During these hours, people also showed increased concern with achievements and power.

In the evenings and during the night, however, the pattern flips. It becomes more emotional and takes on existential tones. It’s a more impulsive, social, and emotionally-heavy mode, and its expression peaked at around 3 to 4 am, the team reports. The algorithm the team employed found that during this interval there was heavy language correlated with existential concerns — but negatively correlated with expression of positive emotions.

The team notes that these shifts also occur during times associated with major changes in neural activity and hormonal levels — which would suggest that they’re tied to the workings of our circadian clock. Finally, they report that a user’s cognitive and emotional states could be reliably predicted over a 24-hour period.

The paper is awaiting publishing in the journal PLOS ONE. Materials via University of Bristol.

Blue represents liberal tweeters and red represents conservatives. Each point is a tweet that feels in a certain political discussion while lines represent retweets. The two are sometimes connected but not very often. Credit: William Brady.

Morally outraged tweets spread better, but largely stay within ‘red’ and ‘blue’ bubbles

For a long time already, social media has been an important platform for spreading information. A new study from Pew Research claims that 62 percent of people get their news from social media, with 18 percent doing so very often. Twitter and Facebook are often cited as leading factors playing roles in important sociocultural turn of events from the Arab Spring to the US presidential election. Psychologists at New York University learned that “moral-emotional language in political messages substantially increases their diffusion” but also that these retweets largely came from same-minded people. The graph below speaks 1,000 words about how ideological thinking can get trapped in the same bubble.

Blue represents liberal tweeters and red represents conservatives. Each point is a tweet that feels in a certain political discussion while lines represent retweets. The two are sometimes connected but not very often. Credit: William Brady.

Blue represents liberal tweeters and red represents conservatives. Each point is a tweet that feels in a certain political discussion while lines represent retweets. The two are sometimes connected but not very often. Credit: William Brady.

Preaching to the choir

The researchers scraped 563,312 tweets about three controversial topics: Gun control, same-sex marriage, and climate change. Each tweet was sorted into three distinct categories based on the type of message: moral language (words like ‘duty’), emotional language (words like ‘fear’), or language both moral and emotion (words like ‘hate’).

Moral-emotional content was the most successful kind of language on twitter, with each additional word increasing their diffusion by a factor of 20%. Psychologists use the term “moral contagion” to describe the process of expression of moral-emotional language over social media.

According to Quartz, the NYU researchers employed an algorithm that measured “political persuasion based on follower networks”. This helped the team establish the ideological pole of each twitter user. As far as messages about gun control or climate change are concerned, these were far more likely to get retweeted in the same ideological group and quite unlike to reach out-group users. Content about same-sex marriage tended in the same direction but didn’t prove statistically significant.

“Furthermore, we found that moral contagion was bounded by group membership; moral-emotional language increased diffusion more strongly within liberal and conservative networks, and less between them. Our results highlight the importance of emotion in the social transmission of moral ideas and also demonstrate the utility of social network methods for studying morality,” the authors wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Spiders are just like cats: they too like chasing laser pointers

Spiders get a lot of bad rep, and most of it is completely unwarranted. After all, they’re much more like pets than we’d care to consider. They’re small and fluffy most of the time, and like a guard dog, they keep intruders out of your house — intruders, in this case, being unwanted insects. As it turns out, they have something in common with cats too: they love chasing laser pointers!

I could watch this on repeat for hours.

We have scientists on Twitter to thank for this discovery, which as it turns out, was common knowledge for some (completely new to me though).

It all started with Jamie Lomax, an astronomer from the University of Washington. Lomax spends most of her work time looking at massive objects far outside our solar system, but one time, she found herself interrupted by something much smaller, and much closer.

Like many other people, she didn’t really like the new presence in her office and she took to Twitter to express it.

“I’m not scared of spiders but if someone else wants to take care of the spider in a room, I’ll gladly let them do it over me. And I don’t really want them raining down on my head,” she told The Atlantic.

She identified the species as a zebra jumping spider, a common jumping spider of the Northern Hemisphere. Like other jumping spiders, it does not build a web, instead relying on its eight large, keen eyes to scout prey. Zebra spiders are rather unusual in that they have often been noted for noticing human presence and reacting to it. You could see them lifting their head towards you and behaving completely different afterward.

But for Lomax, the problem was that there were plenty of tiny spiders around, and not much to do about it (by the time a university exterminator came, they were gone, indicating that a nest had probably hatched and the spiderlings had scoured in the meantime). But someone had a different idea of dealing with the spiders: laser.

No, no, I don’t mean “nuking” the spiders with lasers, I mean using lasers to distract them and direct them in the direction you want. It all happened when fellow astronomer Alex Parker chipped in.

 “Have you tried lasers?” he replied. “Seriously though, some jumping spiders will chase laser pointers like cats do.”

You could almost imagine Lomax sitting in her office, reading the tweet and going “Woaw.”

By this point, Emily Levesque — Lomax’s colleague, with an office two doors down — joined in. She tried the same thing using a red laser pointer, but the spider seemed much more attracted to the green one.

Now, they were really intrigued. What makes spiders first attracted to laser pointers, and second, more attracted to green lasers than red lasers?

“Do all zebra spiders react more to green vs red laser pointers?” Levesque tweeted. “We need some kind of ‘science Twitter bat signal that we can put up when different fields need input from one another.”

But on the internet, you don’t need a bat signal, and Twitter worked its magic once more. Spider researcher Catherine Scott saw the thread and looped in her friend Nate Morehouse, who specializes in spider vision at the University of Cincinnati. It was pretty late at the time, but Morehouse was up watching the Stanley Cup (ice hockey). He was upset to see his favorite team, Pittsburgh Penguins, losing to the Nashville Predators, so he randomly checked his Twitter to see if something was up.

“I was all bummed out, and I decided to check Twitter before I went to bed,” he says. “I had like 150 notifications.”

Like a true science Batman, he swooped in and explained the whole thing. It’s all about the spiders’ eyes, Morehouse explained. Their retinas contain two type of light-detecting cells: one sensitive to green light, and another sensitive to ultraviolet. They can also see red light, but they probably see it as a fainter shape of green rather than a new color. Since they rely on vision to find prey and they have to act fast, it makes a lot of sense for the spiders to chase the pointers.

As it turns out, you can find lots of similar clips on the internet.

But if you have to appreciate the power of the internet. Late night, a Cincinnati biologist heard the call of two Washington astronomers who were using laser pointers to play with spiders. He explained the thing to the entire world, and now you’re reading about it from wherever you may be. I don’t know about you, but that sounds better than Batman to me.

“Rogue” National Park Twitter Accounts Emerge After Trump Issues Media Ban

It all started when the official Twitter of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota started tweeting climate change facts. Then, they were deleted — and everything just went crazy. Like heads on a hydra, more and more National Park Twitter accounts emerged and/or started sharing climate stuff. Because you know, it’s the 21st century and freedom of information is a thing.

Smoky goes wild

The Badlands is a national park in southwestern South Dakota. It has some beautiful landscapes, some rare wildlife, but all in all, it’s a national park much like all others — except this week, the Badlands started an international discussion. Someone working there (or perhaps a former employee) started sharing factual information about climate change. If we wanted to nitpick we’d say that the data is not exactly accurate but that’s not really the issue here. The issue is that a national park tweeting climate facts is a problem — which let’s face it, just sounds strange.

Normally, it shouldn’t do more than raise some eyebrows. It’s not exactly the thing you’d expect to see on such an account, but in a normal context you’d maybe say they’re doing a climate awareness week or something. But this isn’t a normal context. The newly elected US administration is battling a full-fledged war against climate and has also issued a ban on media communications for several public agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency. The tweets were deleted which, as anyone who’s been on the internet for more than two months expected, backfired. Everyone started talking about the tweets. They were featured on the BBC worldwide website and in the Washington Post and on CNN and on NPR and pretty much everywhere. So for starters:

Thank you to whoever deleted the Tweets!

You’ve probably managed to make more publicity for climate change than we do in a year — and that’s not all you did. A few more alternative National Park accounts have popped up, powered by current or former National Park staff acting as a self-described “resistance”. Most notably, the AltUSNatParkService (@AltNatParkSer) already has over 1 million fans, tweeting things such as:

Snarky remarks aside (such as the one below), I think they’re doing a great job and they absolutely have the moral highground. Politics shouldn’t dictate science, and one administration shouldn’t be allowed to push the country (and to an extent, the world) back decades in terms of sustainability. Furthermore, banning scientists from communicating with the public should never happen, and the fact that it has, and at such a large scale, with no valid reason, is truly terrifying. But I guess at least we all learned something about how the internet works, didn’t we?

 

Twitter to release all tweets for scientists: massive scientific tool, but also an ethical dilemma

Five hundred million tweets are tweeted each day – with so many details about the location, interests and behaviors of users, the tweets are a trove of useful information for scientists who might be, for example, looking to find patterns in human behaviors, checking out risk factors for health conditions and track the spread of infectious diseases.

sssThere are many potential uses to this information. By analyzing emotional cues in pregnant women, Microsoft researchers developed an algorithm that predicts those at risk for postpartum depression. The United States Geological Survey uses Twitter to track the location of earthquakes as people tweet about tremors. I could go on for days.

However, while all tweets are public, researchers wanting to access them have to do it through Twitter’s application programming interface, which currently only looks through 1 percent of the archive – drastically limiting the amount of available data. But all that is about to change.

Twitter announced that in February 2015, they will make all their tweets dating back to 2006 available for scientific research – with everything up for grabs, the usage of Twitter as a research tool will likely skyrocket. With so many data points to mine, it’s almost impossible to think of all the potential applications.

But this also raises some tough ethical questions: will Twitter claim any legal rights to any scientific findings? It seems somewhat understandable, and they could make a very strong case. But the most important question is: is it ethical to use the data of the people, without them giving consent? Again, on one hand, it’s very valuable data, and scientists could make good use of it, ultimately providing benefits to mankind. But on the other hand, maybe I just don’t want to reveal my data – I don’t feel comfortable with it. How could this be solved?

Caitlin Rivers and Bryan Lewis, computational epidemiologists at Virginia Tech, published guidelines for the ethical use of Twitter data in February. It seems like common sense, but I guess it needed to be written down. The gist of it is: never reveal personal information about users. Username, location, personal preference, whatever – that’s private, and you shouldn’t reveal personal information, just statistical information. Rivers and Lewis argue that it is crucial for scientists to consider and protect users’ privacy as Twitter-based research projects multiply. Well, as Spiderman said, with great data comes great responsibility! Or was that Snowden?

Hourly changes of mood in average positive (top) and negative (bottom), arrayed by time (X-axis) and day (color). (Golder et al./Science)

The world’s mood pattern graphed with twitter

Sociologists from Cornell University have scrambled through half a billion twits from the web to map out the way moods rise and fall for the populace in tandem, over time and across the world. The volume of data handled is what makes this study unique, as it allows for the proverbial ‘picking of the brain’ on a scale never before seen, incomparable to low-margin case-studies.

Hourly changes of mood in average positive (top) and negative (bottom),  arrayed by time (X-axis) and day (color). (Golder et al./Science)

Hourly changes of mood in average positive (top) and negative (bottom), arrayed by time (X-axis) and day (color). (Golder et al./Science)

Reading the graph, it says: positive feelings peaking in the morning, dipping during work and rising at day’s end; while Friday afternoons are a lot lighter because the end of the work week. Pretty intuitive data, however in order to reach them, the researchers had to climb some pretty big heights.

There seems to be a new study concerning moods and behaviors every week to the point that’s becomes extremely confusing to form a general picture. This is mainly due to the fact that most of these said studies can only afford to collect data from as so many candidates and in as many conditions, as such it’s fairly typical to understand how two studies alike can render different conclusions.

“There’s a whole generation of lab work that’s been inconclusive,” said sociologist Scott Golder of Cornell University, co-author of the tweet analysis published Sept. 29 in Science. “Every study would have something different to say about what they saw in their subjects’ affective rhythms.

The advantage of twitter is that first of all you have a much broader audience to tap into and analyze, versus other methods, as the researchers saw and applied.  Using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, a text analysis program that quantifies the emotional content of statements, Golder and co-author Michael Macy analyzed a total of 509 million tweets generated over two years by 2.4 million people in 84 countries. How’s this for a demographic? Using this data, the study authors were able to plot the mood trend set by world at various stages of the day and week.

“Twitter and Facebook, market transactions on eBay and Amazon: This is the stuff of everyday life” for much of the world, said Golder. “For a social scientist to have access to these records is a fantastic new opportunity.”

This is not to say that twitter can be considered a very reliable social metric or that past studies conducted live with subjects are obsolete, but the point still remains that this is a very clever way into tapping the social media pool. I’d love to see more crowd-sourced studies from the web as a means of complementing, and maybe proofing, genuine controlled studies. People twittering everything they do can now finally state they contribute something.

story via Wired

The new Windows 7 Mango officially presented

The next generation of mobile OS from Microsoft  will improve communications, apps and access to the Internet, company officials say, at an event in New York City this week, where the company introduced a plethora of new features for its next Windows Phone 7 operating system.

At the NYC event, Microsoft demonstrated some new features that will be part of the updated software code-named Mango, which is designed to make Windows smartphones smarter and easier to use, according to Andy Lees, president of the Mobile Communications Business for Microsoft.

“Seven months ago we started our mission to make smartphones smarter and easier for people to do more,” Lees, said at the event. “With ‘Mango,’ Windows Phone takes a major step forward in redefining how people communicate and use apps and the Internet, giving you better results with less effort.”

Key features demonstrated are enhanced social networking capabilities with built in twitter and facebook integration,  multitasking capabilities that allows the device to run one application while another is also working in the background, while also some of their commercial applications like the built in Bing search engine and Quick Cards, which provides product information.

The new software update is due to be released this fall. Meanwhile, Google is also readying the next release of its Android software called Ice Cream sandwich. And Apple will likely be out with a new iPhone 5 and software update this fall as well.

Some inside pics of the Mango Windows 7 can be seen here.

Twitter fails at delivering and spreading hard news

Twitter prides itself in connecting the world and sharing everybody’s thoughts from every corner of the world, especially when it comes to news. But is this really true, or is this just a branding and marketing stunt ? According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Twitter accounts for less than one percent of traffic at most major news sites.

Out of the 21 sites involved in the study, LA Times is the biggest benefficiary, with a whopping 3.5 percent of its referrals coming from Twitter. The NY Times is second, with 1.21 percent, NY Post is 3rd with 1.2 percent, and the Huffington Post gets an honorable mention for 1.16.

So all the talk about sharing news may be a little (or more) overblown; let’s be fair, no one can say that it doesn’t help spread the word and it doesn’t make people research certain topics, but the thing is, if you do share news and people see it, until they click the source link it remains nothing more than a rumour; and if this is the case, then Twitter is nothing more than a rumour mill.

However, Facebook is becoming more and more important in sharing news; the biggest news sites which benefit from it report more than double the amount of trafic received from Twitter, but that shouldn’t surprise you, if you consider the 600 million users compared to Twitters’s 175 million. So for pure news, where can you go ? The answer is the same old classic: Google. Google and Google news remain by far the biggest traffic generators for major news sites, according to the study.

“On average the search engine was responsible for 30 percent of traffic,” the study says. “It was the lead referring site for 17 of these major news sites and the second-ranked referring site for the other four.”

The lesson that you should learn here is that if you want news – go to Google. If you want to share news, it would be better to go on Facebook. If you want to be… uh, winning – Twitter is the place for you.

Fake ‘Cloud Girlfriend’ for rental will post on your facebook profile!

In 1985 Weird Science came out, a movie in which two highly geeky teens manage to create the woman of their dreams and bring her to life, much like a really hot Frankestein. Today, with less fiction in mind a new start-up called cloudgirlfriend.com markets itself as a service which will assist you in creating the perfect virtual girlfriend, which will then be ‘created’ on the social networking of your choosing and post updates on your facebook wall or twitter, praising and telling you how cool you are as her boyfriend. It sounds preposterously stupid, eh? Well, it’s not even 1st of April yet….

It’s an easy four-step process, says the site:

“Step 1: Define your perfect girlfriend. Step 2: We bring her into existence. Step 3: Connect and interact with her publicly on your favorite social network Step 4: Enjoy a public long distance relationship with your perfect girl.”

Oh yeah? Well about the twitter and facebook terms of service? Facebook, at least I’m sure, won’t allow fake accounts being created, and I’m confident the ‘girls’ employed at cloudgirlfriend.com (the company states that real girls will be employed as your ‘cloud girlfriend’) will be willing to use their real profiles.

The right virtual girlfriend can be just like having a real long-distance girlfriend, without the hassles,” Fuhriman wrote on Quora last week, days before the Website was discovered by Hacker News. “I saw a new site helping people with this: http://cloudgirlfriend.com,” he added before revealing his role in the company.

To me, this seems like a 2 dime service which won’t attract absolutely no one. It escapes any rational judgment how a company like this ever got any funding, or interest. And hey, look at this, the site says, “Due to high demand we are only able to accommodate a limited number of users to the site. Register early to get in line.” I call BS!

The Internet’s response to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami

An immediate CNN.com reporting the Japanese quake and tsunami

In the wake of Japan’s most devastating recorded earthquake to date, the nation of the rising sun is still left in shock. Hundreds were killed, many more left homeless, countless financial damage and entire cities left with electricity – it might even get a heck of a lot worse. Another big issue is the telecom failure which makes phone communication practically impossible  – this is when the people turn to the internet.

In Tokyo alone, twitter reports that 1,200 minutes are been sent per minute, providing an insightful overview towards the escalation of the event. On facebook, you can imagine things are more intense, but due to its private nature it provides little to no insights. Ushahidi built a database to help those offering aid connect to those in need.

Maps:

View Japan Earthquake – March 11 in a larger map

Within a few hours after the calamity, Google immediately launched applications that try to direct, connect and help people near the disaster zone and their loved ones overseas as well. The first useful app is a special Google Maps crisis report that has exact positions of affected locations,  shelters in Tokyo, the earthquake’s epicenter and more. The Google owned YouTube has a channel up called CitizenTube, where you can watch raw footage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Also, Google launched Person Finder— a tool that allows users to both report a missing person as well as enter any information they have on a missing person. It displays in English and Japanese and at moment I’m writing this, it has more than 58,000 records in its database. On the app you can either specify whether you’re looking for someone or post information about a missing person. A lot of worried family members in the states for example used this get in contact with loved ones based in Japan after seeing they’re unreachable on the phone.

On Wikipedia, a group of contributors opened a page detailing important information relating to the Japan earthquake. Twelve hours since the earthquake hit, that page has been edited more than 500 times and is rife with information, including other affected areas and international response.

Ten years ago, this couldn’t have been possible, but now with the help of the internet’s social media not only can people can get informed, they can also help and be helped through it. The internet never ceases to amaze me.

Google is ‘very proud’ of Wael Ghonim’s role in the Egyptian protests

As protests throughout the Islamic world continue to spread like wildfire, the ones in Egypt remain extremely interesting from a specific point of view, that of the internet. The internet played a very important role, especially social media; but that role couldn’t have been played if it weren’t for Google employee Wael Ghonim, head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, who use Facebook and Twitter to spark protests in all the country, and spread word in the outside world.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday that he’s “very, very proud”, and that he provided a good example of how social media can be used.

They were able to use a set of technologies that included Facebook, Twitter and a number of others to really express the voice of the people,” Schmidt said, according to AFP and other news sources. “And that is a good example of transparency. And we wish them very much the best. I have talked to [Ghonim]. We are very, very proud of what he has done.”

Until recently, everybody from Google remained silent about this thorny issue, and many wondered if Ghonim would even be allowed to return to his position. However, the giant company maintained their laudable approach to worldwide politics, supporting and even encouraging this kind of behaviour.

NASA to Adopt “Space Internet” by 2011

An artist concept of an interplanetary internet system. Image credit: NASA/JPL

An artist concept of an interplanetary internet system. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Mike Massimino hit the news in May as the first to “Tweet” in space. He began “tweeting” under the name “Astro Mike” while training for the STS-125 mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Soon nearly 250,000 people were following his Twitter feed.

The reality is that Massimino probably wasn’t really “tweeting” at all, at least directly. Astronauts do not have internet access on board the shuttle. In fact, they’re typically limited to one or two opportunities each day to send an email. Believe it or not, Massimino may have been either sending his “tweets” via email, or by voice communication to NASA staff, who would then manually input them into Twitter.

However, NASA is currently planning to adopt technology that will help to change all that. Astronauts will be able to access social networking, Google, and the other resources that we groundhogs take for granted.

The Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) system, or “Space Internet,” has the potential to literally link worlds. The web uses Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), which requires computers to be constantly connected. Guess what? It turns out that’s really difficult to achieve in space.

There are a lot of factors that hinder constant data transmission. The distances involved present something of a formidable barrier, as do occasional solar storms and interference from satellites and other bodies.

DTN deals with these challenges by making sure that each node in the network (which could include the ISS, EPOXI, Mars landers, orbiters, and ground installations) stores everything it receives until it’s got the right conditions to pass the info along to the rest of the network.

Implementing the DTN system isn’t really about making sure astronauts have access to the latest images from lolcats. Nor, with mission schedules being what they are, do astronauts have enough spare time to make StumbleUpon necessary.

What is needed, however, is an automated communications technology that can help to simplify space command and control functions, such as power and life support. This is crucial for future, larger scale space development.

NASA, other agencies, and commercial interests have ambitious programs set to roll out over the next decade. A true multimode network will be needed for much of this to come to fruition.

Testing of the DTN is already well underway. NASA has used the system to send images to and from the EPOXI spacecraft, some 32 million kilometers from Earth, and the protocols were installed on the ISS in May.