Alt-right bot army "rules trending topics" on Twitter

Twitter's indecisive approach to dealing with trolls, harassment and general abuse—suspected by the paranoid as a symptom its need for growth and reach—confounds users to this day. But the blind eye enables more interesting phenomena, too, such as bot armies pushing fringe stories into the trending tags list.

Joseph Bernstein:

MicroChip, who operates behind a VPN (a special secure network that obscures his location), is an object of fascination and fear, even among some of his political and ideological fellow travelers, who hope not to end up on the wrong side of one of his Twitter campaigns. One conservative observer of the alt-right, who spoke to BuzzFeed on the condition that his name not be used, claimed he once hired private investigators to trace him. ... MicroChip said the truth, both about his identity and the method he developed for spreading pro-Trump messages on Twitter, is far more prosaic. Though he would not divulge his real name or corroborate his claim, MicroChip said that he is a freelance mobile software developer in his early thirties and lives in Utah. In a conversation over the gaming chat platform Discord, MicroChip, who speaks unaccented, idiomatic American English, said that he guards his identity so closely for two reasons: first, because he fears losing contract work due to his beliefs, and second, because of what he calls an “uninformed” discourse in the media and Washington around Russian influence and botting.

The alt-right botmaster describes himself a "staunch liberal" who was "redpilled" by Islamic terrorism, then figured out how to automate Twitter trends. Read the rest

Tentaclebots have finally arrived

Biomimicry continues to make amazing strides. Festo just released footage of their OctopusGripper being put through the paces. Read the rest

The automated, invisible revert-wars of Wikipedia's bot ecosystem

In Even good bots fight, a paper written by Oxford Internet Institute researchers and published in PLOS One, the authors survey the edits and reverts made by Wikipedia's diverse community of bots, uncovering some curious corners where bots -- rate-limited by Wikipedia's rules for bots -- slowly and remorseless follow one another around, reverting each other. Read the rest

How "I'm not a Robot" checkboxes work

Zuck That says, "Have you ever been on the Internet when you came across a checkbox that says “I’m not a robot?” In this video, I explain how those checkboxes (No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHAs) work as well as why they exist in the first place."

I mention CAPTCHA farms briefly, but the idea behind them is pretty straightforward. If a company wants to create an automatic computer program to buy 1,000 tickets to an event or make 1,000 email accounts, they can make a script that fills out the form one at a time, and when the program gets to a CAPTCHA, it will send a picture of it to a CAPTCHA farm where a low-wage worker will solve it and send the answer back to the computer program so that it can be used to finish filling out the form.

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Autonomous bat bot weighs 93g, flies like a bat

A team of roboticists from Caltech and Urbana-Champaign have built a biomimetic "bat bot" that uses nine joints to deform a foot-wide wing membrane to achieve breathtaking aerial maneuvers. Read the rest

Amnesty reveals gigantic Mexican Twitter troll-bot mob that threatens journalists, hawks products, and hoaxes trending topics

Amnesty International has published a damning report on the organized networks of Mexican Twitter trolls and botmasters for hire who orchestrate massive harassment campaigns against investigative journalists, including death threats and misinformation/slander; they also hawk products and fake out Twitter's trending topic algorithm, operating with relative impunity -- thanks, in part, to Twitter's underinvestment in Spanish-speaking anti-harassment staff. Read the rest

Researchers discover hundreds of thousands of unsuspected, Star Wars-themed twitterbots hiding in plain sight

Twitter is a great place for bots. Botherders like Shardcore produce amazing, politics, artistic bots that mine Twitter, inject useful information into Twitter, or just frolic on Twitter, making it a better place. Twitterbots produce entries in imaginary grimoires, conduct sociological research, produce virtual model railroads, alert the public when governments try to make bad news disappear, and much, much more. Read the rest

The Mirai worm is gnawing its way through the Internet of Things and will not stop

The Mirai worm made its way into information security lore in September, when it was identified as the source of the punishing flood of junk traffic launched against Brian Krebs in retaliation for his investigative reporting about a couple of petty Israeli criminals; subsequent analysis showed Mirai to be amateurish and clumsy, and despite this, it went on to infect devices all over the world, gaining virulence as it hybridized with other Internet of Things worms, endangering entire countries, growing by leaps and bounds, helped along by negligent engineering practices at major companies like Sony. Read the rest

Why the FBI would be nuts to try to use chatbots to flush out terrorists online

Social scientist/cybersecurity expert Susan Landau (previously) and Cathy "Weapons of Math Destruction" O'Neil take to Lawfare to explain why it would be a dangerous mistake for the FBI to use machine learning-based chatbots to flush out potential terrorists online. Read the rest

An AI wrote a Christmas song

It's not bad. In fact, this is a triumph: a Christmas song written entirely by an artificial intelligence at the University of Toronto. Yet it has that uncanny neural network je ne sais quoi in spades.

I swear it’s Christmas Eve I hope that’s what you say The best Christmas present in the world is a blessing I’ve always been there for the rest of our lives.
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Not just crapgadgets: Sony's enterprise CCTV can be easily hacked by IoT worms like Mirai

The unprecedented denial-of-service attacks powered by the Mirai Internet of Things worm have harnessed crappy, no-name CCTVs, PVRs, and routers to launch unstoppable floods of internet noise, but it's not just faceless Chinese businesses that crank out containerloads of vulnerable, defective-by-design gear -- it's also name brands like Sony. Read the rest

Twitterbot experiment suggests that public disapproval by white men can reduce harassers' use of racist language

NYU PhD candidate Kevin Munger made a set of four male-seeming twitterbots that attempted to "socially sanction" white Twitter users who habitually used racial epithets (he reasons that these two characteristics are a good proxy for harassment): the bots could be white or black (that is, have names that have been experimentally shown to be associated with "whiteness" or "blackness") and could have 2 followers or 500 of them. Read the rest

Trump winning the robotweet war

When you conduct a poll of human beings and ask them who won each of the two presidential debates (the third is tomorrow) they mostly say Hillary Clinton. But millionaire Donald Trump overwhelmingly wins on web-based polls. Why? The fabled alt-right internet hordes crusading around the internet clicking the lot? Maybe. But his fandom is also winning the bot war, with automated robotweeting and online interaction efforts that far outstrip those of their adversaries.

Bots are social media accounts that automate interaction with other users, and political bots have been particularly active on public policy issues, political crises, and elections. We collected data on bot activity using the major hashtags related to the U.S. Presidential debate. In this brief analysis we find that (1) Twitter traffic on pro-Trump hashtags was roughly double that of the pro-Clinton hashtags, (2) about one third of the pro-Trump twitter traffic was driven by bots and highly automated accounts, compared to one fifth of the pro-Clinton twitter traffic, (3) the significant rise of Twitter traffic around debate time is mostly from real users who generate original tweets using the more neutral hashtags. In short, Twitter is much more actively pro-Trump than pro-Clinton and more of the pro-Trump twitter traffic is driven by bots, but a significant number of (human) users still use Twitter for relatively neutral political expression in critical moments.

Politicalbots.org is the source of the non-peer-reviewed report, which is available to download.

A key point is that there's no evidence the campaigns are doing it. Read the rest

Inside a multimillion dollar fake Kindle book scam

Vancouver-based engineer-turned-"entrepreneur" Valeriy Shershnyov published thousands of titles in the Kindle store, "books" of typo-riddled nonsense that he upranked with a system of bots that gamed Amazon's fraud-detection systems, allowing him to sell more than $3M worth of garbage to unsuspecting Amazon customers. Read the rest

Twitterbot simply retweets people writing "your an idiot"

@whostheidiotnow maintains a carefully curated selection of tweets: ones where the author types the exact phrase "your an idiot." One man's automated blocklist is another's breakfast entertainment! [via @saladinahmed] Read the rest

Interview with teen botmaster whose lawyerbots are saving people millions

Joshua Browder, the teenaged botmaster whose Do Not Pay bot is helping drivers save millions by challenging NYC and London parking tickets and assisting UK homeless people who are applying for benefits, sat down for a chat on the O'Reilly Bots Podcast (MP3). Read the rest

Parking-ticket bot will now help homeless people get benefits

Stanford computer science student Joshua Browder, whose DoNotPay bot helps you fight parking tickets in London and New York (it's estimated to have overturned $4M in tickets to date) has a new bot in the offing: a chatbot that helps newly homeless people in the UK create and optimise their applications for benefits. Read the rest

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