A study by the Georgia Tech School of Computer Science set out to identify "hyperadvocacy," defined as systematic disseminations of information meant to support or discredit an idea -- the textbook definition of propaganda.
The study of tweets from two recent politically charged U.S. events -- the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Nevada and the 2011 debate over raising the U.S. debt ceiling -- found characteristic behaviors of Twitter hyperadvocates, whose actions clearly separate them from the tweeting behavior of typical users, researchers said.
-- Sending high volume of tweets over a short period of time.
-- Retweeting while publishing little original content.
-- Quickly retweeting others' content.
-- Coordinating with other, seeming unrelated users to send duplicate or near-duplicate messages on the same topic simultaneously.
"As social media become more and more ingrained in our culture, and as people use social media more as a source of information about the world, it's important to know the provenance of that information -- where it's coming from and whether it can be trusted," researcher Nick Feamster said in a Georgia Tech release Thursday.
"As a user, you might think the information you see is coming from lots of different sources, but in fact it can be part of an orchestrated campaign."