Researchers analyzed more than 200 million tweets discussing coronavirus or COVID-19 since January. They found that nearly half were sent by accounts that behave more like a convincing bot than an actual human.
Of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82% were likely bots, the research showed. Out of the top 1,000 retweeters, 62% were likely bots.
More than 100 types of inaccurate COVID-19 stories were identified by researchers, including misinformation about potential cures and conspiracy theories — such as hospitals being filled with mannequins or the coronavirus being linked to 5G towers. Researchers said bots are also dominating conversations about ending stay-at-home orders and "reopening America."
The team said it was too early to point to specific entities that may be behind the bots "attempting to influence online conversation."
"We do know that it looks like it's a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that," Kathleen Carley, a professor in the School for Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon, said in a statement.