Almost half of all Twitter accounts discussing Covid-19 online could be bots pushing conspiracies or so-called cures, new research suggests.

Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University processed more than 200 million tweets discussing the Covid-19 virus posted to Twitter since January.

They discovered that about 45 per cent were sent by Twitter accounts that had robotic behaviour, making it possible that millions of automated messages were posted online to disrupt discussion.

Researchers added that the tweets appeared to create division in America on coronavirus, but that they could not confirm what individuals or groups are behind the bot accounts.

“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,” said Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, last week.

Bot Twitter accounts also discussed 100 different false narratives on the coronavirus, including conspiracies surrounding 5G technology’s connection to Covid-19.

At the same time, tweets about Donald Trump’s “reopening of America” were seen to contain conspiracies.

The Carnegie Mellon scientists added that current bot activity on Covid-19 was almost double that predicted, based on previous elections and natural disasters.

Ms Carley continued: “Because it’s global, it’s being used by various countries and interest groups as an opportunity to meet political agendas”.

Researchers described Twitter bot actions as repetitive, and above what is thought to be practically possible for humans.

“People often refer to bots when describing everything from automated account activity to individuals who would prefer to be anonymous for personal or safety reasons, or avoid a photo because they’ve got strong privacy concerns,” said Twitter in a statement to NPR.

The social media platform also claims to have “challenged” 1.5 million accounts because of unusual activity on Covid-19, whilst deleting thousands of tweets.

Russia denied allegations that it was spreading Covid-19 disinformation in the West in March, after the European Union warned in an internal document that the Kremlin wanted to “aggravate the public health crisis in Western countries”.

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