Weaponizing Data Solutions Against the Fake News Bots in Ukraine

As we all know Skynet became self aware on August 29th, 1992. However, in this version of human existence we were not subjected to humanoid terminators trying to exterminate mankind. Instead we got bots.


Oh ya, you know… little fake computer programs that run amok on the internet looking to cause trouble. They have more in common with a Gremlin than a T-1000. But while bots might seem fairly benign, like a pack of mischievous gremlins, they can be quite dangerous.

Let's talk about Ukraine and fake news. (No, that's not where the story is going. Well, not exactly.) Ukraine has a problem with bots, in fact it is infested with fake accounts all over its social media. What's intriguing though is that these bots aren't merely spamming the comment section, these Ukranian bots actually talk to each other in a coordinated attack to push a certain agenda.

The Robot Uprising

Now it's easy to see that having fake accounts on your social media can be a large problem, especially if they are posing as humans with the intent of swaying public opinion. These bots could be weaponized to influence public policy, political sentiment or even an election.

If you are familiar with how the general social media algorithm works, the more comments and likes on an article, the more people that see the article. This is why every single time one of your friends gets engaged or has a baby, Facebook feeds you this content. (These posts have a ton of likes and 7,862 people saying ‘congrats.')

But those are real people.

Now think of a news organization with tens of thousands of followers. Due to the rise of social media, most media organizations actively migrate their content to social sites to boost views. Bots then could push certain articles by liking and commenting on posts that drive a certain agenda. A Vox Ukraine investigation showed that roughly half of these engagements are fake, existing only to boost impressions. You may remember this is similar to how Russia ‘hacked' the US Presidential election.

So, if there are bad actors that have infiltrated social media, influencing our own human psychology, what is there to be done? The obvious answer is to prevent the bots from ever entering the social media eco-system in the first place. Fake likes and fake comments can be eradicated by first eliminating the fake accounts.

Hasta La Vista, Baby

But how do we defeat the robots?

Data intelligence, verification and machine learning. Ironically, we use machines to defeat the machines.

Let's start with the simple part. Using mobile verification can help quash fake accounts. By requiring 2FA at account registration, most fraudsters/bots won't be able to handle inputting a one-time passcode sent to a mobile device. You have probably seen versions of this on web forms, ‘click this box to prove you are not a robot' or ‘select every photo with a car in it.' These are anti-robot measures but they are far less effective than 2FA.

Additionally, the best and most comprehensive way to protect against fake account creation is to leverage telco data to fight back against the machines. See, a phone number can tell you a lot about a person: their device info, contact information, what type of phone number they use (cell, pre-paid, VOIP) and generally it can help you discern if the person behind it has dubious intentions.

Moreover, TeleSign has an additional security tool called Score. It delivers reputation scoring based on phone number intelligence, traffic patterns, machine learning and a global data consortium. An attempt to register an account with a shifty phone number will fail the TeleSign security checks and leave the fraudster (real or fake) feeling quite sad. The robot overlords are defeated by the same line that frustrates every single man at a bar on a Friday night. “Can I have your number?”

Who knew it was that easy?

By keeping fake accounts off social media we remove fake engagements, fake comments, fake likes and we prevent the robots from dictating public policy and influencing our own free will. These simple fixes are available for all social media ecosystems, the question is ‘Why haven't you called TeleSign yet?' You cannot let the robots win. To learn more about how TeleSign can keep your (real) users safe, click here.

Talk To An Expert

Interested in learning about how TeleSign's identity and engagement solutions can prevent fraud while fostering secure and global growth for your business? Let's chat.