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Computer Science Shows How 'twitter-Bombs' Wield Influence

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Wellesley College computer scientist P. Takis Metaxas

Wellesley College Associate Professor of Computer Science P. Takis Metaxas has discovered how a Twitter-bomb may have affected a state-wide Massachusetts election.

Credit: Wellesley College

Wellesley College computer science professor P. Takis Metaxas says "Twitter bombs"—sending many Tweets from a large number of Twitter accounts within a short period of time—are being used to affect the outcome of elections.

Metaxas says Twitter bombs were used against U.S. Senate candidate Martha Coakley in the recent Massachusetts senatorial election. A Twitter bomb reaches many people very quickly. "In addition, because Google is displaying Twitter trends in a prominent place, you influence Google search results," Metaxas says. The result of the Twitter bomb was "disproportionate exposure to personal opinions, fabricated content, unverified events, lies, and misrepresentations that would otherwise not find their way in the first page [of Google search results], giving them the opportunity to spread virally," he says.

In an analysis of the Coakley Twitter bomb, the researchers found that the attack was launched by the American Future Fund, the same group that attacked John Kerry's record during his 2004 presidential campaign. Metaxas is developing software to detect Twitter bombs in real time.

From Wellesley College
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