BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) - Two UC Berkeley students say their concern over divisive, political propaganda on social media has motivated them to create a way to help users identify Twitter accounts run by automated programs or bots.
The two 20 year olds say issues such as possible Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election led them to take action.
In their rented home in Berkeley, Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte found a way to identify false or misleading links and stories on Twitter.
They say their goal is to improve our nation's divisive political climate.
"It's one of the things that keep us awake at night. It's one of the reasons why we've spent the past 8 weeks working on this," says Ash Bhat, co-founder of RoBhat Labs.
While using social media, the two students noticed many automated accounts, or bots, that were putting out inflammatory misinformation and fake news.
"It's a bigger rat's nest that we thought it was," says Rohan Phatede, co-founder of RoBhat Labs.
The students who are also roommates say they became concerned when they saw suspected Russian bot accounts on Twitter and wanted to help other users identify propaganda.
"The possibility that a foreign actor could be influencing the way Americans in the United States think is so scary,"says Bhat.
Signs of bot accounts include a short history, but a long list of followers, constant re-tweets, and little or no original content.
"This is a huge deal. It compromises the security of our own social media and our opinions," says Phatde.
So the roommates created an algorithm that enables Twitter users to install a blue bot-check button that will help determine if a tweet comes from an account belonging to a human and not an automated account or one that has been hacked.
The two college juniors say they've reached out to Twitter twice via email. They wrote: "We feel that this is a problem that has led to the recent political discourse threatening the peace and harmony within our nation. We want to extend our help in any way that is needed."
The students say they have not received a response from Twitter.
"We want to give people the tools to know when they're seeing propaganda , when they're talking to a bot," says Bhat.
KTVU contacted Twitter, but there was no response. But its policy says "You may not impersonate individuals, groups, or organization in a manner that is intended to or does mislead, confuse or deceive."
"It's a huge problem that needs to be solved," says Bhat.
Twitter users can go to www.botcheck.me to find out how they can install it on their Twitter accounts.
The students are working on an iPhone app that will do the same thing.
They expect it to be available in about two weeks.