Social media are vulnerable to deceptive social bots, which can impersonate humans to amplify misinformation and manipulate opinions. Little is known about the large-scale consequences of such pollution operations. Here we introduce an agent-based model of information spreading with quality preference and limited individual attention to evaluate the impact of different strategies that bots can exploit to pollute the network and degrade the overall quality of the information ecosystem. We find that penetrating a critical fraction of the network is more important than generating attention-grabbing content and that targeting random users is more damaging than targeting hub nodes. The model is able to reproduce empirical patterns about exposure amplification and virality of low-quality information. We discuss insights provided by our analysis, with a focus on the development of countermeasures to increase the resilience of social media users to manipulation.
Information Pollution by Social Bots
Xiaodan Lou, Alessandro Flammini, Filippo Menczer