Vaping is hot. A clever analysis of Twitter posts reveals one possible reason: automated accounts, or bots, may be convincing people that electronic cigarettes are beneficial. Researchers analyzed 2.2 million tweets about vaping and discovered that hashtags used in tweets by humans differ from those in tweets by bots. Bots focus on new products and on vaping as an effective way to stop smoking tobacco even though “there is limited scientific evidence for that,” says study leader Jon-Patrick Allem, an assistant professor of research at the University of Southern California. Hashtags written by humans emphasize people’s lifestyles—vaping is cool, vapers are a community. Allem speculates the bots are propagated by manufacturers or by organizations that promote vaper rights or that are generally against government regulation.
This article was originally published with the title "Smoke Screen" in Scientific American 321, 1, 92 (July 2019)