Bushfires, bots and arson claims: Australia flung in the global disinformation spotlight


Timothy Graham, Queensland University of Technology and Tobias R. Keller, Queensland University of Technology

In the first week of 2020, hashtag #ArsonEmergency became the focal point of a new online narrative surrounding the bushfire crisis.

The message: the cause is arson, not climate change.

Police and bushfire services (and some journalists) have contradicted this claim.

We studied about 300 Twitter accounts driving the #ArsonEmergency hashtag to identify inauthentic behaviour. We found many accounts using #ArsonEmergency were behaving “suspiciously”, compared to those using #AustraliaFire and #BushfireAustralia.

Accounts peddling #ArsonEmergency carried out activity similar to what we’ve witnessed in past disinformation campaigns, such as the coordinated behaviour of Russian trolls during the 2016 US presidential election.

Bots, trolls and trollbots

The most effective disinformation campaigns use bot and troll accounts to infiltrate genuine political discussion, and shift it towards a different “master narrative”.

Bots and trolls have been a thorn in the side of fruitful political debate since Twitter’s early days. They mimic genuine opinions, akin to what a concerned citizen might display, with a goal of persuading others and gaining attention.

Bots are usually automated (acting without constant human oversight) and perform simple functions, such as retweeting or repeatedly pushing one type of content.

Troll accounts are controlled by humans. They try to stir controversy, hinder healthy debate and simulate fake grassroots movements. They aim to persuade, deceive and cause conflict.

We’ve observed both troll and bot accounts spouting disinformation regarding the bushfires on Twitter. We were able to distinguish these accounts as being inauthentic for two reasons.

First, we used sophisticated software tools including tweetbotornot, Botometer, and Bot Sentinel.

There are various definitions for the word “bot” or “troll”. Bot Sentinel says:

Propaganda bots are pieces of code that utilize Twitter API to automatically follow, tweet, or retweet other accounts bolstering a political agenda. Propaganda bots are designed to be polarizing and often promote content intended to be deceptive… Trollbot is a classification we created to describe human controlled accounts who exhibit troll-like behavior.

Some of these accounts frequently retweet known propaganda and fake news accounts, and they engage in repetitive bot-like activity. Other trollbot accounts target and harass specific Twitter accounts as part of a coordinated harassment campaign. Ideology, political affiliation, religious beliefs, and geographic location are not factors when determining the classification of a Twitter account.

These machine learning tools compared the behaviour of known bots and trolls with the accounts tweeting the hashtags #ArsonEmergency, #AustraliaFire, and #BushfireAustralia. From this, they provided a “score” for each account suggesting how likely it was to be a bot or troll account.

We also manually analysed the Twitter activity of suspicious accounts and the characteristics of their profiles, to validate the origins of #ArsonEmergency, as well as the potential motivations of the accounts spreading the hashtag.

Who to blame?

Unfortunately, we don’t know who is behind these accounts, as we can only access trace data such as tweet text and basic account information.

This graph shows how many times #ArsonEmergency was tweeted between December 31 last year and January 8 this year:

On the vertical axis is the number of tweets over time which featured #ArsonEmergency. On January 7, there were 4726 tweets.
Author provided

Previous bot and troll campaigns have been thought to be the work of foreign interference, such as Russian trolls, or PR firms hired to distract and manipulate voters.

The New York Times has also reported on perceptions that media magnate Rupert Murdoch is influencing Australia’s bushfire debate.




Read more:
Weather bureau says hottest, driest year on record led to extreme bushfire season


Weeding-out inauthentic behaviour

In late November, some Twitter accounts began using #ArsonEmergency to counter evidence that climate change is linked to the severity of the bushfire crisis.

Below is one of the earliest examples of an attempt to replace #ClimateEmergency with #ArsonEmergency. The accounts tried to get #ArsonEmergency trending to drown out dialogue acknowledging the link between climate change and bushfires.

We suspect the origins of the #ArsonEmergency debacle can be traced back to a few accounts.
Author provided

The hashtag was only tweeted a few times in 2019, but gained traction this year in a sustained effort by about 300 accounts.

A much larger portion of bot and troll-like accounts pushed #ArsonEmergency, than they did #AustraliaFire and #BushfireAustralia.

The narrative was then adopted by genuine accounts who furthered its spread.

On multiple occasions, we noticed suspicious accounts countering expert opinions while using the #ArsonEmergency hashtag.

The inauthentic accounts engaged with genuine users in an effort to persuade them.
author provided

Bad publicity

Since media coverage has shone light on the disinformation campaign, #ArsonEmergency has gained even more prominence, but in a different light.

Some journalists are acknowledging the role of disinformation bushfire crisis – and countering narrative the Australia has an arson emergency. However, the campaign does indicate Australia has a climate denial problem.

What’s clear to me is that Australia has been propelled into the global disinformation battlefield.




Read more:
Watching our politicians fumble through the bushfire crisis, I’m overwhelmed by déjà vu


Keep your eyes peeled

It’s difficult to debunk disinformation, as it often contains a grain of truth. In many cases, it leverages people’s previously held beliefs and biases.

Humans are particularly vulnerable to disinformation in times of emergency, or when addressing contentious issues like climate change.

Online users, especially journalists, need to stay on their toes.

The accounts we come across on social media may not represent genuine citizens and their concerns. A trending hashtag may be trying to mislead the public.

Right now, it’s more important than ever for us to prioritise factual news from reliable sources – and identify and combat disinformation. The Earth’s future could depend on it.The Conversation

Timothy Graham, Senior lecturer, Queensland University of Technology and Tobias R. Keller, Visiting Postdoc, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Think carefully before buying Bitcoin – and don’t buy the ‘safe haven’ claims


Lee Smales, University of Western Australia

The sharp rise and subsequent fall in Bitcoin’s value places it among the greatest market bubbles in history. It has outpaced the 17th-century tulip mania, the South Sea bubble of 1720, and the more recent Japanese asset price and dot-com bubbles.


https://cdn.theconversation.com/infographics/286/e04648d7cf1a157e88017b3e5c2c5557ae88bcfc/site/index.html


The rapid price rise garnered attention from an increasing number of academics and investment advisers. Some have suggested that Bitcoin improves portfolio performance and can even be used as a potential “safe haven” asset in place of gold.

Our work finds that much of this research is flawed and overlooks some important attributes that any investor should consider before allocating funds to such a speculative investment.

This is particularly relevant if investing in Bitcoin is rationalised as a prospective safe haven in times of market turmoil.

Hard to value

The first attribute investors consider is how to value Bitcoin. Typically, assets are valued based on the cash flows they produce. Bitcoin lacks this property.

This leads to ongoing debate as to the true value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Some, such as the Winklevoss twins and other Bitcoin entrepreneurs, believe the price will soar far higher. Others, including Nobel prize winner Eugene Fama and esteemed investor Warren Buffett, believe the real value is closer to zero. Another Nobel winner, Robert Shiller, suggests the correct answer is “ambiguous”.

There is even wide variation in price across the various Bitcoin exchanges. This is common in fragmented markets and makes it difficult for an investor to find the best market price at any point in time – a process called price discovery.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/W3evi/1/

High price volatility

Bitcoin prices also have a high level of variation (volatility) when compared to other possible investments including bonds, stocks and gold. Even tech stocks such as Twitter, which are considered relatively volatile, are found to have less price variation. This adds to the difficulty investors face when trying to value Bitcoin and any portfolios that contain it.

This is of particular concern given the large daily losses that Bitcoin has experienced in its relatively short life. The largest one-day decline experienced by the popular S&P500 index since 2011 is 4.2%. Bitcoin has had nearly 200 days that were worse (and over 60 days worse than the biggest decline in the gold price of 10.2%).

Put another way, Bitcoin has had 200 days worse than the worst day on the stock market. This hardly seems like an enticing investment for most.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/80wdK/2/

Low liquidity

Investors should also consider the ease with which they are able to buy and sell any assets in which they invest. One method used to measure this liquidity attribute is the bid-ask spread – the difference in the price at which one is able to buy and sell the asset.

More liquid assets have a narrow bid-ask spread. Bitcoin’s bid-ask spread varies from one exchange to another, but in general it is much larger than for other assets.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/brgfk/1/

While bid-ask spreads provide one measure of implicit trading costs, investors also consider the explicit transaction fees they are charged when trading. Transaction fees for trading traditional investments are typically well known and have trended down over time.

While Bitcoin fees have recently declined, they have proven to be highly variable, ranging from over $30 to under $1. The time taken to process a transaction can also be greater than 78 minutes. This is much longer than for stocks or bonds and creates another layer of uncertainty for investors.

Only for the most risk-loving

Bitcoin is harder to value, more volatile, less liquid, and costlier to transact than other assets in normal market conditions. Potential investors should be wary and carefully consider whether such highly speculative assets are appropriate additions to any portfolio.

The ConversationGiven safe havens are typically in demand during financial crisis, when markets are more volatile and less liquid, it is highly unlikely that Bitcoin is even worth considering as a safe-haven asset.

Lee Smales, Associate Professor, Finance, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 23 December 2014 – Terrorism Claims Political Leader


‘Happy Birthday To You’ is Copyrighted?


This one takes the cake (poor pun I guess) – apparently ‘big music’ claims to own the copyright for ‘Happy Birthday To You,’ which means every time we sing it we are potentially breaking the law – unless we have an arrangement for paying royalties. However, this all seems very dubious and someone is finally challenging the ‘copyright.’

For more visit the article linked to below:
http://www.teleread.com/copy-right/is-happy-birthday-still-under-copyright/

Guns in Church: Gun Situation in USA is Getting More Than Ridiculous


The link below is to an article concerning a pastor in Georgia, USA, who sought the right to bear arms in church. Not sure what he was hoping to achieve my taking guns to church other than it being just a stunt. He claims it would be for protection – must be very vigorous debates over membership issues there. Crazy!

For more visit:
http://global.christianpost.com/news/ga-pastor-loses-fight-to-carry-guns-at-church-78845/

Article: Louis Farrakhan and his Claims


The following link is to an article that reports on Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and various claims he has made, including that Jesus was a black man.

For more, visit:
http://www.theblaze.com/stories/farrakhans-wild-new-claims-jesus-was-a-black-muslim-elijah-would-be-the-ner-at-the-door-plus-the-bible-was-wrong-about-cain/

Article: Resurrection an Optical Illusion


The following article reports on the latest debate surrounding the Shroud of Turin and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Art historian Thomas de Wesselow claims the ressurection was an optical illusion.

http://global.christianpost.com/news/religious-leaders-rebuke-historians-claim-resurrection-was-an-optical-illusion-72225/

Genetic Study Supports Genesis


An article posted at the Christian Telegraph provides a very interesting look at genetic signatures in the Jewish population. The report claims that the results of the genetic study seems to indicate support for a literal interpretation of Genesis.

Read the article at:
http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue13042.html