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Vaping Bots

Recent research claims that vaping activists on social media are nothing more than automated bots.

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The general public is being bombarded with fake social media posts promoting vaping claim San Diego State University researchers. They say that over 70% of tweets studied as part of their research came from automated machines posing as real people. The question is not whether artificial intelligence is involved, but whether the research team consists of artificial stupid.

San Diego University (SDSU), like the establishment up the road in San Francisco, takes an anti-harm reduction stance in order to protect its grant funding and contracts (worth in excess of $1.5 billion since 2000). A typical example is the 2104 article, co-written by Thomas Novotny, where it trots out the old, tired anti-vape nonsense California is famous for.

Martinez, Hughes, Walsh-Buhi and Tsou published the study “Okay, We Get It. You Vape’: An Analysis of Geocoded Content, Context, and Sentiment regarding E-Cigarettes on Twitter,” in the Journal of Health Communication.

Keen to confirm they’re no dimwits, they used a Social Media Analytic and Research Testbed, otherwise known as SMART. It was conducted because they believe there are “serious questions to answer” about some perceived misuse of Twitter by agents unknown.

They looked at 193,051 tweets, “over half of tweets were positive, a sizeable portion was negative or neutral. We also found that, among those tweets mentioning a stigma of e-cigarettes, most confirmed that a stigma does exist.”

The team confirm their collective bias when they continue: “Conversely, among tweets mentioning the harmfulness of e-cigarettes, most denied that e-cigarettes were a health hazard. These results suggest that current efforts have left the public with ambiguity regarding the potential dangers of e-cigarettes.”

Martinez, the lead author of the paper, said: “We are not talking about accounts made to represent organizations, or a business or a cause. These accounts are made to look like regular people. This raises the question: To what extent is the public health discourse online being driven by robot accounts?”

Tsou added: “Robots are the biggest challenges and problems in social media analytics. Since most of them are commercial-oriented or political-oriented, they will skew the analysis results and provide wrong conclusions for the analysis.”

“Some robots can be easily removed based on their content and behaviours, but some robots look exactly like human beings and can be more difficult to detect. This is a very hot topic now in social media analytics research.”

The research claims to have discovered “confusing and illogical posts about e-cigarettes and vaping”. We can take this as meaning posts they disagree with.

Martinez admitted the research didn’t obtain anything factual, and was ultimately nothing more than another attempt to slur harm reduction and vaping: “We do not know the source, or if they are being paid by commercial interests. Are these robot accounts evading regulations? I do not know the answer to that.”

But then they don’t need to have facts when engaging in mudslinging. Have you noticed a sudden disappearance of pro-harm reduction accounts on your social media feed as Twitter clamped down on bots? No, us neither.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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