Fake news: Twitter still flooded with sham accounts

Twitter continues to be plagued with misinformation, with four of five fake accounts that were active during the 2016 election still in operation, according to a new study

The fake accounts continue to publish more than 1 million tweets per day, said the study from Matthew Hindman of The George Washington University in collaboration with Vlad Barash of network analysis firm Graphika, with support from the Knight Foundation. 

The report raises questions about the efficacy of Twitter's steps to root out misinformation on its service, including suspending more than 70 million fake and suspicious accounts in May and June. At the same time, it has also targeted hate speech and "dehumanizing" language from real users, permanently banning right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for violating its abusive behavior policy. 

"Contrary to claims that fake news is a game of 'whack-a-mole,' more than 80 percent of the disinformation accounts in our election maps are still active as this report goes to press," the authors wrote in the report. 

Twitter said the study doesn't reflect its recent actions to remove fake content. 

"Firstly, this study was built using our public API and therefore does not take into account any of the actions we take to remove automated or spammy content and accounts from being viewed by people on Twitter," said Del Harvey, Twitter's global vice president of trust and safety, in a statement emailed to CBS MoneyWatch. "We do this proactively and at scale, every single day."

Fake news was spread before and after the 2016 presidential election, the study found. About 6.6 million tweets linking to fake and conspiracy news publishers were published leading up to the 2016 election. That fell to 4 million tweets from mid-March to mid-April 2017, the researchers noted. 

Many of the accounts spreading fake news are bots, or automated accounts, the authors noted. And not all of it was in support of President Donald Trump. A "smaller but still substantial amounts of fake news were passed on by liberal or Democratic-identified accounts," the report said. 

Russia appears to have been involved in the spread of misinformation before the election, but since then it has shifted to "international conspiracy-focused accounts," the researchers wrote.