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Robots like to vape.

That’s what officials at San Diego State Univerisity (SDSU) recently concluded.

Analyzing Twitter feeds, SDSU researchers indicated both internet “bots” and individuals have about the same amount of concern for potential e-cigarette health risks – hardly any.

With social media content constantly being automated by bots, positive online vaping conversations dominate the ‘net, with relatively few stories on health issues. The SDSU team wondered: “To what extent is the public health discourse online being driven by robot accounts?”

The San Diego State vaping study was funded, in part, by the National Science Foundation and was published in July edition of the Journal of Health Communication.

Of the analyzed Twitter accounts, SDSU representatives estimated 70 percent of the Tweets created on vaping can be traced back to bots, electronically pretending to be human to boost sales, spread propaganda and, all the while, attempting to sway the public’s view of the industry.

To some, that is bothersome.

Like Ming-Hsiang Tsou, founding director of SDSU’s Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age. Tsou also served as the lead author of the study.

“Robots are the biggest challenges and problems in social media analytics,” Tsou said. “Since most of them are ‘commercial-oriented’ or ‘political-oriented,’ they will skew the analysis results and provide wrong conclusions for the analysis.”

The SDSU team announced the data collection of bot influence was shocking. Initially, the researchers set out to study “the use and perceptions of e-cigarettes in the United States and to understand characteristics of users discussing e-cigarettes.”

The more information was compiled, the focus gradually evolved.

Twitter recently announced stronger safeguards against fake accounts and spam.

“Some robots can be easily removed based on their content and behaviors,” Tsou said. “But some robots look exactly like human beings and can be more difficult to detect. This is a very hot topic now in social media analytics research.”

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