We built a Twitter bot that replies to people who share fake news

And Twitter didn’t like it

Is there anything we can build to prevent this in the future?

Shortly after the election, people started collecting tons of ideas. For example, in this crowd-sourced document many people came together and brainstormed proposals on more than 150 pages. That’s impressive. However, it’s hard to take action based on huge amounts of information like this.

Here are two problems that come up most often:

1) The curation of “fake news” sources could be (borderline) censorship
2) Solutions like Chrome extensions affect the wrong people (who might not share fake news)

1) Are current solutions promoting censorship?

2) Are current solutions addressing the wrong people?

Here’s the thing: If you install a Chrome extension that flags fake news articles, chances are you’re very aware of the problem. Thus, not really the target user group. Products should be designed for the people who spread the news without knowing it’s fake. I can only tell from my experience in Germany, but usually, those aren’t the people who hang out on Twitter all day, think about “filter bubbles,” and install Chrome extensions.

Our experiment: HoaxBot

Two weeks ago in a Friday afternoon hack session, we came up with the idea to build a simple, friendly Twitter bot that replies to people who tweet links to fake news articles.

HoaxBot was designed to affect two types of users:

1) People who share content from questionable sources get an instant notification when they are mentioned in the tweet reply
2) People who see the shared link hopefully notice the first reply in the thread and don’t spread it further

Twitter didn’t like it

We liked this experiment, and although it had its glitches, we were excited to see more users’ reactions to our replies. However, not even 30 tweets in the career of HoaxBot, Twitter decided to cut us off their write API.

Screenshot from Twitter: https://support.twitter.com/forms/platform

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Taking on the problems and challenges in journalism. Spreading ideas, passions and new ways of thinking about media. A publication run by Media Lab Bayern.

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