Was Martha Coakley the victim of a cyber attack? According to researchers, an Iowa conservative group that attacked John Kerry in 2004 also used Twitter to launch attacks on Coakley before the January special election for Senate won by Scott Brown.
In a paper published by Panagiotis Takis Metaxas and Eni Mustafaraj, the researchers examined more than 185,000 campaign-related tweets and retweets during the week leading up to the election, reports the Boston Globe.
"One of the more active accounts was one that was tied to the American Future Fund, a conservative organization based in Iowa that also ran television ads critical of Coakley," the Globe reported.
The researchers said a surge of more than 900 tweets in a two-hour period from accounts tied to the AFF spread misinformation about Coakley to Twitter users. This constituted an attack, the researchers argue, which they call a "Twitter-bomb."
Metaxas said in a press release that the researchers identified more than 60,000 people who received the messages on Twitter, and noted that real-time search on Google gave the tweets more prominence.
"I have computed a list of about 60,000 people who received these messages," Metaxas said. "I do not know, of course, who believed them, but I know that many propagated them for a day after the spamming Twitter accounts were shut down."
A Twitter-bomb reaches a large number of people very quickly, Metaxas said.
The result is "disproportionate exposure to personal opinions, fabricated content, unverified events, lies and misrepresentations that would otherwise not find their way in the first page (of Google search results), giving them the opportunity to spread virally," said Metaxas.
The research paper is called "From Obscurity to Prominence in Minutes: Political Speech and Real-Time Search," (http://journal.webscience.org/317/). It was presented at the 2010 conference WebScience10: Extending the Frontiers of Society On-Line, held April 26-27 in Raleigh, N.C., and won best paper at the conference.