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According to Botsight, I am “almost certainly a bot”. Or at least my Twitter account is.

Botsight says it uses artificial intelligence to decide if there is a human or a bot behind a Twitter account. The software was developed by NortonLifeLock, which was formerly part of Symantec.

The goal is to help fight disinformation campaigns. It’s hard to argue with the sentiment behind this.

Botsight in a browser

You install Botsight as a browser extension. NortonLifeLock says it works with the major browsers. It turns out that mainly means Chrome. There’s no support for Safari and when I first tested the Firefox version that wasn’t delivering. These things happen with beta software. It’s no big deal.

Then, when Twitter is running in your browser, Botsight flags whether an account is likely to be human or a bot. You have to use the office Twitter website. A green flag shows an account that is likely to be human, red tells users to be wary.

The flags also show percentages. In my case the score is 80 percent, that’s enough for alarm bells to ring.

At Botsight says, I’m “almost certainly a bot”.

Botsight report

The developers say they collected terabytes of data then looked at a number of features to determine if an account is human or not. The software uses 20 factors to make this decision.

More AI nonsense

NortonLifeLock says its AI model detects bots with a high degree of accuracy. It’s a typical AI claim and like many of them, doesn’t stand up too well when tested in the real world.

No doubt a lot of Botsight readers who encounter my Twitter wit and wisdom will assume the worst.

It’s not going to happen, but that could be grounds for a defamation action. Sooner or later someone is going to sue a bot for character assassination.

Like it says at the top of the story I’m on the wrong side of this equation.

What gives?

I asked NortonLifeLock how come I’m identified as a bot. Daniel Kats, the principal researcher at NortonLifeLock Research Group says there are three main reasons.

The first is my Twitter handle: @billbennettnz.

Kats writes:

“The reporter’s handle is quite long, and contains many “bigrams” (groups of two characters) that are uncommon together. This is a sign of auto-generated handles (ex. lb, tn, nz). It’s also quite a long handle, which in our experience is common of bots.”

I didn’t have much choice here. My given name includes that tricky LB combination. I doubt changing Bill to William would have made any difference.

There are a lot of other Bill Bennetts in the world. Others got to the obvious Twitter handles first. Mine tells people I’m in New Zealand. Trust me, the alternatives look more bot-like.

The only practical way to change this is to kill the account and start Twitter again from scratch. It is an option.

Following too many

Botsight’s second alarm is triggered by my follow to follower ratio. It turns out that following 2888 people is ’an usually high number, especially in relation to the number of followers”. Kats says it is no common for a human to follow that many others.

Well, that’s partly because I use Twitter to follow people who might be news sources.

The idea of letting bots or AI bot detectors dictate behaviour bothers me. Yet, if Botsight thinks I’m a bot, it’s possible other researchers and analytical tools looking at my account think so too. We can’t have that. Perhaps I should cull my follow list.

So, please don’t take offence if you’re unfollowed. I need to look more human. Only up to a point. On one level I don’t care what a piece of software thinks about me. On another, I get a fair bit of work come to me via the Twitter account so it may need a bit more care and attention.

Not enough likes

The third sign that I’m a bot is that my number of favourite is low. Favourite is the official Twitter terms for liking a tweet. Apparently I don’t do this as much as other humans.

On the other hand, I link to a lot of web posts. Linking lots and not favouriting much is, apparently, a sign of a bot.

The Botsight software could take note that I often get involved in discussion threads on Twitter. That’s something that a human would do, but would be beyond most bot accounts.

From the bot’s mouth:

Well, there you have it. I’m a bot. Perhaps that means I should put my freelance rates up.

Of course, any AI model is only as good as the assumptions that are fed into it. This is where lots of them fall down. We’ve all heard stories of AI recruitment tools or bank loan tools that discriminate against women or minorities. Bias is hard coded.

This is nothing like as bad. On a personal level I’m not unduly worried or offended by Botsight. Yet it does give an insight into the power and potential misuse or misinterpretation of AI analysis.

“Here’s the bad news: No one is coming to save you. No business is going to swoop in and provide sustainable funding for newsrooms. No new technology is going to transform the way journalism supports itself forever.

No big, incredible deal is going to build a strong foundation for the news. There isn’t a single magic bullet that will work for everyone. Even producing groundbreaking journalism isn’t going to suddenly turn your fortunes around.”

Source: Use the tools of journalism to save it » Nieman Journalism Lab

Ben Werdmuller has a sobering and realistic take on today’s journalism. It looks grim, yet there is optimism of sorts here.

A conversation

He says journalists need to recognise the internet is not a broadcast medium but a conversation. This echoes a post on this site from 11 years ago. More on Twitter journalism looks at the way many journalists use Twitter as a broadcast medium. They see it as a way to draw in readers to their newspaper, radio or TV channel websites.

This still happens. But many New Zealand journalists have learned how to engage with readers online. We focus here on Twitter because that’s the only social media I use these days. One reason for picking a single social media channel is that I can concentrate my firepower. This makes sense for a one person freelance journalism business. And it is a business, not a job.

In the earlier story I write:

“Most use it as a broadcast medium – like an RSS feed. A number have Twitter accounts, but say little of value. Perhaps 40 percent can be said to be serious Twitter journalists.”

Without digging around and doing a lot of research, I’d say that number hasn’t changed much.

Twitter as a conversation

What has changed is many of New Zealand’s higher profile journalists have regular active Twitter conversations. Go and dig around, you’ll see many of the best-known names engaging with their audiences. It can be hard doing this among the snark and antagonism.

One innovation that I’ve been working on at this site is to integrate Twitter comments with those left directly on my site. I’ve used a couple of IndieWeb tools to capture tweets responding to my posts on stories. I’ve done this to boost the conversational aspect of my work. My plan is to add to this over the coming year.

The linked story from this site ends with:

“Until publishers encourage reporters and editors to engage with their audiences, they are going to miss out on the potential of Twitter.

Of course, the journalists who do this best will become media brands in their own right, which will worry the bean counters. But that’s another story…”

This is working well 11 years after those words were written. Many of us who still work as journalists are now mini-brands. Publishers and editors hire journalists with a good brand. Freelancers like me get work on the back of having a brand.

This doesn’t come naturally to older journalists. We were taught to keep ourselves out of the story. That’s not how things work today and it definitely isn’t how blogging works.

Community

Werdmuller has a different take on what amounts to the same idea. He writes:

“Instead of thinking in terms of having an audience, you need to think about building and serving a community. Instead of informing, you need to be listening. The opportunities to learn the nuances of your community and to serve it directly are unprecedented — but it takes work.”

It does take work. One of the skills journalists pick up is to be excellent at listening to sources. In the past we’ve not been so good at listening to our audiences. It took me a while, although judging by my earlier posts, I was onto this 11 years ago.

The point here is there hasn’t been a clear dividing line between sources and audiences for many years now. Likewise, there is less of a division between journalists and audiences. We are, as Werdmuller puts it, communities. He is right when he says this takes work, but boy, it can be rewarding.

 

Mike Murphy gets to the point for Quartz when he writes Google will strip Google+ for parts.

Stripping for parts is a delicious metaphor — the tech industry just can’t get away from car analogies.

The deal is this: Google will pull the Photos and Streams components from Google+ and set them up as two new products.

… and Google Hangouts?

There’s talk elsewhere the company will do the same for Hangouts. I’ve never had success with Hangouts but I know many readers love the application and prefer it to alternatives like Skype and FaceTime.

In some ways Google+ is a better social media tool to use than either Facebook or Twitter. It has a clean interface and offers greater flexibility.

I’ve found engagements with others can be more enlightening than the terse 140 character limit Twitter imposes. And there’s a higher signal to noise ratio than you’ll find on Facebook.

Google+ easy to read, navigate

Best of all, you can quickly read back through discussion threads. That can get tricky on Twitter when talks take off in multiple directions. And, of course, being Google means you can find things fast.

The problem is that Google+ never managed to get past the feeling that there’s tumbleweed blowing down empty streets.

Google says there are billions of accounts. That’s sort of true. Signing up for the service is more or less mandatory if you use other Google products or even an Android device.

Yet estimates say there are only a few million active users. That’s about two percent of Facebook’s active users and, maybe, five percent of Twitter’s.

Twitter grumble

There’s a joke that you go to Twitter to listen to people grumble, go to Linkedin to listen to people pretending to work hard, go to Facebook to watch people play and go to Google+ to see what Google employees are up to.

Google+ wasn’t Google’s first attempt at social media. You may remember Buzz and Wave. Both were awful, but they had fans. Google+ was a better experience, the basic idea and code were sound enough. It’s just that Google never seems to have got social media.

Commentators are writing Google+ obituaries. That may be premature, although one never knows with Google. This is a company that has no compunction about taking lame horses behind the stable for shotgun practice.

What is clear is that Google+ will change.

Writing at Reportr.net Alfred Hermida says most journalists approach Web 2.0 services like Twitter with a 1.0 mindset. He’s right, my personal bugbear is that many media organisations insist their reporters use Twitter as a broadcast media and not for dialogue.

Hermida, a journalism professor, looks at a list of best practices guidelines for journalists using Twitter. Top of the list are two I consider the most important:

  • Have a voice that is credible and reliable, but also personal and human
  • Be generous in retweets and credit others

Too often media tweeters come across as cold and impersonal. In some cases the Twitter accounts feel robotic, because that’s exactly what they are.

And media outlets are often the least generous when it comes to crediting sources. Perhaps they fear they’ll lose readers if they point them elsewhere. Of course, they will lose some traffic that way, but they’ll gain more in terms of credibility by being more open and generous.

Reportr.net » 10 best practices for Twitter for journalists.