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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.

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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

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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?