Blog

Blogs and Bullets workshop at Stanford

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This past Friday (March 6, 2015) I participate in a workshop titled Blogs and Bullets and hosted by the PeaceTech Lab, George Washington University, and the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University.

I was honored to be participate and be part of the discussion on the use of Social Media analysis in research around Political and Natural crises. In my opinion, this is an important discussion to continue guiding the social computing and political research discourse to more rigors results and to benefit the users.

Thank you!

Facebook Post Browser: Now available for Facebook Pages!!

It is finally here… I am happy to announce that my Facebook Post Browser tool can now help you browse Facebook Pages.

In the past few months I received many comments from researchers and students who work on research related to Facebook users asking me to improve the tool to browse Facebook Pages in addition to Facebook open Groups. With this new update it will be simple to see all the posts of a Facebook Page for the time range you set. Here is how you can use the tool for pages:

1- Go to http://groupbrowser.azurewebsites.net/

2- you will login with your Facebook account credentials and get to this page

3- From the drop-down menu select Page

Pagebrowser

4- Enter the name of the page you are interested in browsing

Tip: I usually find the name of the page in the URL

Pagename

5- Select the data range of the posts you would like to retrieve

6- Finally, press submit and wait for a few seconds for the results.

Results

I hope this is beneficial for many of you conducting research on Facebook Groups and Pages.I would like to hear your opinion, so please share your comments and feedback regarding this tools.

** Copyright: If you are planning to use this tool in your publishable research I would appreciate it if you can reference the tool/blog in your reference list.  The citation style will be for a “website” and the author is Abokhodair, N.

Our Paper to CSCW 2015 on Dissecting a Social Bot

Happy New Year! I hope your year is off to a great start…

I would like to share the great news that our paper “Dissecting a Social Botnet: Growth, Content and Influence in Twitter” got accepted at The 18th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW 2015) which will be held March 14-18, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada.

The paper focuses on one specific social botnet in Twitter to understand how it grows over time, how the content of tweets by the social botnet differ from regular users in the same dataset, and lastly, how the social botnet may have influenced the relevant discussions. Our analysis is based on a qualitative coding for approximately 3000 tweets in Arabic and English from the Syrian social bot that was active for 35 weeks on Twitter before it was shutdown. We find that the growth, behavior and content of this particular botnet did not specifically align with common conceptions of botnets. Further we identify interesting aspects of the botnet that distinguish it from regular users.

If you are attending CSCW 15 this year and you are interested in topics around social technical platforms and automated agents please plan to attend our presentation on Tuesday the 17th of March at 10am (More information on CSCW program page). If you are not planing on attending CSCW15 please feel free to download the paper from the ACM Library and read it. Our team welcomes your questions and comments, therefore don’t hesitate to contact us.

P.S. If you dont have access to ACM Library get in touch with me to provide you a copy.

The ACM citation is

Norah Abokhodair, Daisy Yoo, and David W. McDonald. 2015. Dissecting a Social Botnet: Growth, Content and Influence in Twitter. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW ’15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 839-851. DOI=10.1145/2675133.2675208 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/2675133.2675208

Thank you!

My Experience at the Internet Research 15 Doctoral Colloquium

I just got back from Korea where I was attending IR15: Boundaries and Intersections (AoIR ’15). The main focus of this years conference was on studies and workshops that are engaging with complexities arising from points of intersection within and beyond the digital world. So, submissions included topic on the interface between the techno- and the –social and digital mobilities between and through spaces. Many other topics were discussed (please refer to the call for proposals for more information on IR15.) During my time in the conference I had an opportunity to discuss my work with great mentors and Ph.D. students from different countries, such as Australia, France, and England. It was really interesting to talk with other people about the different methods and theories they work with, and to get their feedback on mine.

It was my great pleasure to have been officially selected to attend the conference’s Doctoral Colloquium which was organized this year with the help of Microsoft Research Social Media Collective lab in New England. The full-day pre-conference workshop was divided into 4 sessions and organized in a way to allow us to breakout in a smaller group and discuss and then come together to state the highlights of our discussion to the larger group. The first session was about introducing our current work. In this session we discussed our work with our assigned mentor and receive critical feedback and comments on our topic and state of our research. My mentor for this session was Christian Sandvig, who is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan. Christian, gave me great and practical feedback on the framing of my work and narrowing it down to a manageable dissertation. The Second session was about knowing our audience, where we discussed ways to navigate disciplinary intersections with our mentor. My mentor for this session was Sharif Mowlabocus, who is a Senior Lecturer (Assoc. Prof.) in Digital Media at the University of Sussex, UK. My time with Sharif was very useful, as he helped me navigate the different disciplines of my research and the interesting intersections between privacy, transnationalisim and social media. The third session was about become a teacher and a researcher at the same time. My mentor for this session was Sun Sun Lim, who is Assistant Dean for Research at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Associate Professor at the Department of Communications and New Media, National University of Singapore. Sun sun, had such great advice on teaching and managing time. She told me that one thing I need to keep in mind ==> not showing fear or lack of self-confidence in the classroom because “students smell fear” and they are there to learn from someone they assume know something more than them #truth #teachingwisdom. The forth session was about the professional life after the Ph.D. My mentor for this session was Airi Lampinen, who is a social scientist with an eye out for the everyday efforts needed to regulate interpersonal boundaries in the context of networked communication technologies. Airi, was great in giving me practical advice on how to approach the job market, especially that I am looking for an internship this year and she’s got a great experience with hiring committees. Finally, we had a closing discussion session as a full group to reflect on the day and the takeaways.

I really encourage every Ph.D. student (who passed their qualifiers or not yet ) to consider IR16: Digital Imaginaries, which will be held in Phoenix, AZ, USA, 21-24 October, 2014. Please feel free to send me any questions regarding the conference or my work.

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Updates…

Apologies for not being very active in updating my blog but I have been busy trying to get 3 research projects done in the summer on some very interesting topics that vary between: Social botnets, impressions of Saudi Youth Privacy and Security on Facebook, and how to create a Job co-op for homeless youth using the concepts of shared economy. I was also working on preparing my application to attend the IR15 Doctoral Colloquium that starts in Oct 23rd of this year.

Stay tuned to whats coming next…

Facebook Posts Scraper (Tool) (It is up again!)

I am sure many of you would like some help scraping – scraping is a technique of extracting information from websites – the posts of a specific Facebook group. For example, when I was working on one of my early projects entitled Youth, ICTs, and Democracy in Egypt with the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the UW – Information School, we needed to undergo a qualitative coding exercise for approximately 700 Facebook posts from the April Youth Movement Facebook group.  However, at the time of data collection, Facebook’s format did not enable users to browse through old posts. Additionally, the number of daily posts was immense; manual collection would have been prohibitively time-consuming. Therefore, I quickly realized the need for an application to save me  time while collecting Facebook posts. In order to collect Facebook posts, we developed an application using the Facebook Graph application programming interface (API), which is a way for developers to access Facebook data and build applications. 

This is the link to the application http://groupbrowser.azurewebsites.net/

How to Use the Application: 

1. At the beginning Log in with your Facebook account.

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 12.01.48 PM

2. After logging in, add the name of the Facebook group that you want to extract the posts from  ( I recommend copying it from Facebook)
3. Add the start Date of the posts you want to display
4. Add the end Date of the posts you want to display
5. Add the Number of posts
6. Click Submit

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 12.06.16 PM

The results are going to show in a bulleted list for readability and ease of use.

I really hope you could benefit from using this free application and feel free to ping me if you had any questions or concerns. Also, I would like to hear from you, what do you think of the App ? Would it be beneficial for you ?

Update: I just published a new post for the Facebook Page Scrapper!

The 5th Annual iSchool Research Fair

Today in the iSchool at UW we will have the 5th Annual Research Fair. I am very excited to present our work on the Twitter BotNet for the first time to the public. If you had time to stop by the location is :

iSchool Research Fair
Thursday, November 21st
6:30-8pm
HUB South Ballroom

I will be sharing the poster and some insights from the iSchool research fair later this week.

On the article: The Rise of Twitter Bots : The New Yorker

I spent some time reading the article The Rise of Twitter Bots published in the New Yorker. I very much recommend reading it if the word BotNet is new to you. The author – Bob Dubbin –  spends sometime briefing the reader on what Twitter bots are and includes some anecdotes on different twitter bots and how they were developed ( This is especially  important for me because of my work with Twitter bots and the lack of academic writing on social bots) . It was eye-opening for me to learn how some of these Twitter bots get developed and then sent into the wild to spam users. In the article, Exosaurs , (which is a bot created on Twitter) was given as an example of such bots. However, there are a lot more (e.g. @everyunicode) out there that were developed to spam users by integrating available datasets. Personally, the most interesting example shown in this article was the twitter bot that praises Fox new  and includes the #PraiseFox: RealHumanPraise. The bot gained 31,000 followers in no time by real account.

It is important to realize that when bots like these might not be very harmful – other than spamming your twitter feed with a random tweet every 2 min – it could still harm or impact public opinion when used by governments in political unrest (e.g. Syrian Civil war) . Also, Bot creators are now becoming very good at developing extremely sophisticated  Bots in a way that would make the tweets sound human-like.

I am excited that the Twitter bots are being brought to surface because I am sure with the rise of twitter bots we will encounter different ways in which these Bots will be employed in non traditional ways (e.g. marketing, politics ). As I mentioned earlier, this article  is  important to me and to other researchers working in this field because of the lake of reporting in this relatively new phenomenon. Currently, I am working on what we assume to be a Political  Twitter BotNet with my team at the University of Washington.

I would like to hear from you, what did you think of the article?

 

Discovering the Twitter Botnet

In my last  blog post, I discussed our data preparation and collection. In this blog post I will start talking about 1- a brief of some of our preliminary findings 2- The discovery of the botnet in our dataset.

To recap my last two blog posts, I want to remind you that we first, collected tweets from twitter to analyze tweets from the Syrian civil war. We did that by selecting 3 violent and 3 nonviolent events, after that we conducted 2 different kinds of analyses: log analysis (from the most re-tweeted tweets based on content) and network analysis (from the high account influence on a network diagram) on the re-tweeted tweets. In the last step, we compared the top retweeted accounts (twitter handles) from the log analysis and the network analysis then we conducted a comparative analysis between the top re-tweeted accounts across the different event types (3 violent and 3 nonviolent events).

The results from these 2 different analyses were:

1- In the nonviolent events data set, people were not tweeting about the salient events we selected (3 violent and 3 nonviolent events). For example, Angelina Jolie’s visit to the Syrian refugees’ camp in Jordan on September 11, 2012, wasn’t discussed in the tweets, however, people were tweeting about war-related issues (e.g., chemical bombs), comparing 9/11 and Syria Civil War.

2- From the salient violent events, we picked Houla Massacre that occurred on 5/25/2012 and compared the authors of top most retweeted tweets from the Log Analysis and the top retweeting accounts (we identified these by looking at the node size a.k.a node centrality) in the Network Analysis. The results of our analysis showed that they were totally different (Top retweeting authors’ ≠ Top retweeting nodes)

3- We compared our findings with the Influence Matrix (Source: Klout.com) Just to better understand our results. We found that we were interested in 3 different types of Twitter users: Curators, Celebrity, and Activist.

Picture23

We were curious to know if we could find any celebrity type in the data set, someone who has both high content influence and high account influence. So we compared top retweeted nodes to the entire log analysis (450 posts), searching for any overlapping cases. We found one such user account: @g1. 

We wanted to learn more about this user’s attributes however, the account was suspended. Therefore, we started browsing the name associated to the bot, both in English and Arabic, on the Internet. We found some interesting information, however, none was related to the war. We suspected that this person might be the human user behind @g1. However, she did not have much of an online presence, which made us suspect that she is the one running her account (at that time we started suspecting that we might be dealing with a fake account of a celebrity)

In the network graph, @g1 was clustered with 19 other users, 17 of whom were suspended. Wondering what might be the reason behind this large number of account suspensions, we started following @g1 across different events in the data set.

Content Analysis

To better understand what might be the reason for suspending @g1 account we conducted a high-level content analysis on her tweets archived during the period of April to December 2012. We found that the account had stopped posting (therefore, presumably had been suspended) on November 20, 2012. Also, from our high level content analysis we discovered that most of tweets are highly political, so this wasn’t the reason for suspension by twitter.

From there, we started conducting the same analyses on the accounts clustered with @g1 across all of the six events. As a result, we identified 42 Twitter handles that had stopped posting on November 20, 2012. Interestingly, we found that the majority of these accounts got suspended on the same date, November 20, 2012. Moreover, we found that all of their last tweets were around 6:30 AM UTC indicating a systemic ban. Lastly, we discovered that they all shared the same last tweet.

Additional analyses on the data set and we discovered

  1.  21 additional accounts that had stopped posting at that time, (thus 63 accounts in total).
  2. All of the accounts were retweeting, specifically with RT, the one unique account: @h1
  3. All shared the same last retweet content.
  4. All stopped tweeting almost at the same time around 6:30 AM UTC, November 20, 2012.
  5. Each user was tweeting  continuously round the clock.

Why is this network a botnet?

What made us suspect that this might be a botnet were the following indicators:

  1. The links attached to tweets
  2. The links attached to RT
  3. The frequency of tweeting
  4. Tweet text (The 3 letter random hashtag)

An example is this tweet: “RT @h1: #سوريا #Syria لوهان ستمثّل في أغنية مصوّرة لليدي غاغا http://t.co/uv2e3OGV #xmy” (English translation: RT @h1: Lindsay Lohn to appear on Lady Gaga’s next music video #Syria ##سوريا http://t.co/uv2e3OGV #xmy).

When we searched for the sentence “Lindsay Lohan to appear on Lady Gaga’s next music video” in Arabic, we found a news headline on the website http://www.elnashrafan.com with the exact text. However, when clicking on the link, we got redirected to http://alwatan.sy.

Another example is: “#سوريا #Syria بدء امتحانات الفصل الثاني للمرحلة الجامعية الأولى في جامعة #دمشق http://t.co/OTUpaarW #dmq” (English translation: The second midterms starts for University of # Damascus #Syria #سوريا http://t.co/OTUpaarW #dmq).

The botnet was using a random 3 letter hashtag in all it’s tweets #xmy #dmq . Why were they adding this hashtag is something we still don’t know. We are assuming that this is their tracking method or reach testing technique.

Lastly, clicking on the link embedded in this tweet redirects to an article on the a new website,  which is an Arabic independent news forum.

These are the two examples of many similar incidents. Most of the tweets that were randomly tested lead to one of three websites.

Currently, we are still conducting content and network analyses to understand this botnet behavior and the motives behind its creation. One of the things we are pretty confident about is the botnet tweets were all in support of Alasad’s government and that it was followed by real people, who also supports the current Syrian regime. We asked ourselves: Was this twitter botnet created at the time when the majority of tweets on the Syrian civil war were against the regime to influence the public opinion and to amplify the voices of the people who are pro-regime, maybe?

In the meantime, stay tuned for further results of this project.

*The following and follower data was collected on March 18, 2013, not on the date of the event. For the top RT nodes, we only used data for 3 accounts because 17 accounts were suspended.)

** This project is in collaboration with Daisy Yoo and David McDonald from the iSchool at the University of Washington. Please don’t make copies of the content until you contact the blog admin.

***The twitter handles used in the post are not real they are pseudonyms created by the team.

[1]http://www.elcinema.com/person/pr1104200/