Almost 48 million Twitter accounts are bots - Axios
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Almost 48 million Twitter accounts are bots

Eric Stoller/JISC

A new study from The University of Southern California and Indiana University finds that up to 15% of active Twitter accounts are bots with built-in retweet and mention strategies that target specific groups. With 319 million monthly active users, that equates to roughly 48 million active bot accounts on Twitter, more than the population of California.

While the study highlights the malicious applications of bots, like spurring fake grassroots political support, It's important to note that not all bots are bad, and many help to shape user experience. A Twitter spokesman tells CNBC that some bots in the study's calculation "are extremely beneficial, like those that automatically alert people of natural disasters…or from customer service points of view."

Why it matters: One could argue that the prevalence of bots calls into question the validity of Twitter's monthly active user base, which has basically plateaued over the last year, despite the prolific use of the platform by the President. But bot traffic is not unique to Twitter, as Facebook and Google's "good bots" make up 8% of all internet traffic. The real concern is whether audience measurement companies should take bots into consideration as part of user traffic numbers, which affect advertising potential, if their behaviors mimic that of real human users.

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Trump says he'll announce Fed chair pick "very shortly"

President Trump said he will make his decision on who he wants to lead the Federal Reserve soon, and is still considering at least three people: Fed Governor Jerome Powell, Stanford University economist John Taylor, and current Fed Chair Janet Yellen.

"I will make my decision very shortly, pretty shortly," he told Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo in an interview that aired on Monday.

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Why some screen time can actually be good for kids

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

In her TED Talk earlier this year, Sara DeWitt, vice president of PBS Kids Digital, argued that all that screen time isn't necessarily a bad thing. But DeWitt says a few things got lost in the message. "It's not like blanket all screen time is great," she said in a recent interview with Axios.

The bottom line: There are two things to keep in mind, she says. One is that the right amount of screen time really depends on the kid, and the other is that not all screen time is created equal. The key, she says, is for parents to be proactive.

"There's a big difference between just kind of flipping on the TV when you need a few minutes of downtime and turning on whatever and really thinking about what is going to be the best time for media today and how can I make the best choice."

Here's more from a couple interviews Axios has done with DeWitt over the past few months.

Is there a right amount of screen time?

"That is totally dependent on the kid," DeWitt said. "That's what I want parents to think about — they always want to find that magic number, like it would be no more than 20 minutes or no more than two hours, but you really have to get to know you're kid and what kind of makes sense for them."

DeWitt noted that her five-year-old would watch TV and play video games all day, so she has to set specific limits, with warnings a few minutes before he hits his limit. With her younger so, he doesn't even want to watch a whole TV program

"He's just not that kind of kid, so we will have very different screen time rules for him than we do for his brother," she said.

How educational games are changing

In its most recent game, Ruff Ruffman's Fish Force, PBS is actually able to make the levels adjust based on where an individual child is at. That's important, De Witt says, because kids do best and engage more when they are pushed a bit beyond their comfort zone, but not too much.

Games are also proving to be good ways to judge achievement. For example, a study with using some of PBS Kids' Curious George apps was able to closely predict how young kids would score on standardized tests.

"The data was astonishing," DeWitt said. Indeed, the researchers at UCLA felt they could learn more about a child's cognitive learning from the games. "They feel like the games give more insight then the tests did," she said. "hey are beginning to say 'Why are we focusing so much time on the testing when actually we can get a lot more information by looking at this kind of game."

Why voice is tricky -- and so important

"We've been designing forever around these huge constraints - our audience can't read and they can't use the keyboard," she said. "Suddenly we have a way for kids who can't read or write to communicate."

The touchscreen was a big leap forward and voice holds promise too, provided the industry can find good ways to adhere to federal COPPA rules and other regulations designed to protect children online.

Connecting parents to their kids' game play to parents

Decades of research shows that kids can learn from educational TV, and learn even more when parents talk to their kids about what they saw. The same holds true with games, DeWitt said. So, PBS has been focusing on developing tools for parents, including an app called PBS Super Vision that texts parents updates with what their kids are learning from the games. Another app, PBS Parents Play and Learn offers tips on games to play in a restaurant, in the car or other places.

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Scoop: Trump enlists family, Cabinet, Congress in opioid response

President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

The Trump administration this week will make its official declaration of the opioid crisis as a national public health emergency, and President Trump will speak Thursday on combating the epidemic.

The big news: Trump will sign an executive document directing Cabinet agencies to take actions addressing the crisis, a top administration official tells us.

More details:

  • We're told this will be an administration-wide effort that includes Melania Trump, who last month held a White House roundtable on opioid abuse. Ivanka Trump has also spoken on the subject.
  • The administration is working on a massive advertising and public-relations campaign to reach Americans.
  • Congress will be involved because there will be requests for funds. The administration response has been questioned on Capitol Hill.

Why it matters: The New Yorker's Margaret Talbot — who wrote a memorable piece about heroin in West Virginia, "The Addicts Next Door" — writes in this week's issue that Trump's upcoming moves are "a welcome, but belated, response to a problem that has been growing inexorably for nearly two decades."

  • "For all the coverage the opioid epidemic has received, the reaction to it has been consistently muted. No group of activists quite as angry and eloquent as ACT UP has emerged to make the crisis an urgent priority."
  • Opioids kill more than 50,000 Americans a year, 10,000 more than AIDS did at the peak of that epidemic.
  • "Something about the nature of this epidemic delayed the sense of calamity. As the coroner of Montgomery County, Ohio, has said, it's a 'mass-casualty event,' but one played out in slow motion."

Be smart: The opioid crisis has hit hard in Trump country — rural areas, and economically depressed white communities. For Washington, it's been out of sight, out of mind for too long — and a reminder of the blinders we have in the bubbles, which also delayed recognition of Trump's heartland strength.

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Tony Podesta reportedly investigated by Mueller probe

Tony Podesta in 2004. Photo: Jacqueline Larma / AP

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe is investigating Democratic strategist Tony Podesta and his lobbying firm the Podesta Group, per NBC News. John Podesta — Tony's brother and former Clinton campaign chairman — is not a part of the Podesta Group and thus not a figure in Mueller's investigation.

What happened: Mueller is reportedly looking at Podesta's work on a pro-Ukraine public relations campaign from 2012 to 2014 organized by Paul Manafort. Podesta and his firm may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by not disclosing their work for a foreign government — though The Podesta Group retroactively filed a FARA registration, which is allowed under federal law.

Statement from the Podesta Group: "[The firm] is cooperating fully with the Special Counsel's office and has taken every possible step to provide documentation that confirms timely compliance. In all of our client engagements, the Podesta Group conducts due diligence and consults with appropriate legal experts to ensure compliance with disclosure regulations at all times — and we did so in this case."

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In a bet against college, WeWork acquires a coding bootcamp

WeWork will open coding academies within all its office spaces. (Photo: Flatiron School)

WeWork, the office leasing giant, has acquired the New York-based Flatiron School, a private coding academy, in a gamble on 15-week, $15,000 vocational education as opposed to far more expensive four-year college degrees. The companies did not disclose the precise value of the cash-and-stock deal. At $20 billion, WeWork is tied for the sixth most-valuable startup in the world.

Why it matters: At a time many experts and politicians are questioning the assumption that college is for everyone, the deal bets on a fashionable form of vocational education — coding — as a route to well-paying software jobs. The plans are to expand Flatiron from its single location in New York's financial district into most approximately 170 WeWork offices, which would further test the growing idea of bypassing college, at least in the U.S. tech world.

The deal fits WeWork's cultural play: WeWork rents out exquisitely designed and operated office spaces with the feel of boutique hotels. Adam Enbar, co-founder of Flatiron, said the deal, which was signed Oct. 11 but announced only today, aligns with a cultural shift to which WeWork is marketing. "More than prior generations, people want community at work," Enbar told Axios. "When you imagine education in a space, it starts to make sense. One of the most powerful forms of community is learning."

Six days after the agreement, Flatiron signed a settlement with the New York Attorney General in which it agreed to more clearly disclose its hiring and salary rates. Almost all graduates find jobs within six months, but they range from full-time positions to internships. The settlement included a $375,000 payment. The school appears now to be in full compliance.

Artie Minson, WeWork's CFO, said the deal was in the works for nine months. Enbar said that many on-line schools were failing to teach effectively because most students need to be with other students while they learn, and not just learning content at home alone. That is why the physical school is important. "We forget about that," he said. "Something is lost when you remove a physical community."

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The ethanol empire strikes back

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Ethanol is hot like it's the Iowa caucuses. It may be October in an off-cycle year, but President Trump is suddenly facing unusually intense pressure from Midwestern politicians and ethanol companies to keep his campaign promises on this issue.

Driving the news: Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt assured a group of corn-state lawmakers in an unusually detailed letter last week that he won't alter a federal mandate that requires refineries to blend biofuels — mostly corn ethanol — into the nation's gasoline supply. The EPA was considering changing certain parts of the mandate at the behest of oil-industry lobbying — but backed off under pressure from seven Midwestern Republican senators and ethanol companies.

Why it matters: Most casual observers know about corn ethanol in the context of politics: it's produced in Iowa, whose caucus kicks off America's presidential races. Trump vowed over and over to support the ethanol industry and its 12-year-old federal mandate.

The big picture: Trump has bigger problems on his plate with Congress, namely passing bills on higher priority issues like tax reform and health care. He needs GOP support everywhere he can get it. Ethanol battles flare up, but can be resolved comparatively easy given their parochial nature.

Midwestern GOP senators, led by Iowa's two Republican senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, threatened to hold up Trump's nominees unless they got Pruitt to back down on changes oil refineries were asking for. Committee votes on several top EPA nominees were delayed until this week because of the kerfuffle. Trump told Pruitt in a phone call late last week he needs to keep Grassley happy, according to multiple people familiar with the call.

"If he satisfies the refineries, then he's going to go back on the president's promise and hurt rural America," Grassley said in an interview last week. "Even though he's acting in good faith to thread the needle and go down the middle, it's pretty impossible to make that miracle come out."

What's next: The EPA faces a Nov. 30 deadline to issue quotas for how much biofuels refineries must blend into the gasoline supply. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, visits Washington this week and has meetings planned with Vice President Mike Pence and Pruitt. The oil refining industry will also be scrambling to respond to last week's machinations.

"In a moment of weakness I'll tell you what I'm really thinking," Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents oil refineries, said on Friday. "It's frankly been very embarrassing to watch the administration bend its knee to its will to king corn and these handful of senators."

Thompson said he anticipates allies of his industry aren't going to stay quiet for long. "This all happened quickly and I do think it took people a bit by surprise," Thompson said.

Fights du jour

Grassley and other Midwestern politicians have been worried over the last several months about three related but distinct possible changes to the mandate. Each of the revisions would benefit some refineries struggling to comply with the mandate. Ethanol backers say the changes are unnecessary and worry they would open the floodgates to broader rewrites, and possibly a wholesale repeal.

  1. The agency in late September said it was considering cutting the levels of biodiesel and other advanced biofuels the mandate requires.
  2. The EPA was also considering a request by refineries, including Valero Energy Corporation and Monroe Energy (owned by Delta Airlines), to allow exported biofuels to count toward domestic quotas.
  3. The agency has been considering a request by some refineries to broaden the category of companies that must show compliance with the law.

Pruitt assured the group of Midwestern senators in his letter late Thursday that he won't follow through on any of these, with final regulatory announcements expected by Nov. 30.

"This really represents the first major pushback by ethanol — it was well coordinated, strong and effective," said Bob McNally, president of the Rapidan Energy Group and former adviser to then-President George W. Bush. "The ethanol empire strikes back."

Why this all matters less to most drivers: The oil boom of the last decade, which has made complying with the law more difficult, has also lowered gasoline prices. This has made any ethanol impact on gas prices — up or down — almost unnoticeable, McNally said.

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Keeping the Alexander-Murray health care bill in context

As the debate unfolds about the bipartisan bill by Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray to repair the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, the public could be just as confused as they have been about the ACA's marketplaces. That's why it's important to debate it in the right context: It's aimed at an urgent problem affecting a relatively small sliver of the health insurance system, not all of the ACA and not the entire health system.

The bottom line: It's a limited measure that will never give conservatives or liberals everything they want.

Data: Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll conducted Oct. 5-10, 2017; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

Reality check: Many people will think it affects their insurance when, in actuality, it will have no impact on the vast majority of Americans who get their coverage outside of the relatively small ACA marketplaces.

The chart based on our new Kaiser Tracking Poll shows the confusion. Just 23% of the American people know that rising premiums in the ACA marketplaces affect only people who buy their own insurance. More than seven out of 10 wrongly believe rising premiums in the marketplaces affect everyone or people who get coverage through their employer.

The public will be susceptible to spin and misrepresentation against the limited goals of Alexander-Murray: a bipartisan effort to stabilize the marketplaces by funding the cost-sharing reduction subsidies, providing more resources for open enrollment outreach, and expediting state waivers.

President Trump has added to the confusion. He recently pronounced the ACA "dead", adding, "there is no such thing as Obamacare anymore." Possibly that's because he wishes it was dead. More likely, he was referring to the problems in the ACA marketplaces, which he has exaggerated.

Like thinking your whole house is falling down when just a part of the foundation needs shoring up, both he and the American people have an inaccurate picture of where the marketplaces fit in the ACA and where the ACA fits in the health system.

A few facts:

  • There are just 10 million people enrolled in the ACA marketplaces.
  • The law's larger Medicaid expansion and consumer protections are popular and working well.
  • The far larger Medicare and Medicaid programs and employer based health system combined cover more than 250 million people, and are largely unaffected by developments in the ACA marketplaces.
  • Premiums for the 155 million people who get coverage through their employers rose a very modest 3% in 2017.

Some conservatives in Congress will hold out for repeal, and they'll resist any legislation that they view as propping up Obamacare. But for everyone else, it's important to understand the problem and get the facts.

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McCain blasts "bone spur" excuses for dodging Vietnam

"[W]e drafted the lowest income level of America and the highest income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong." — McCain, in an interview segment that aired on CSPAN

Background: President Trump, while not named in McCain's quote, received five draft deferments, four for college and one for a bone spur. Trump famously criticized McCain on the campaign trail, saying he likes people "who weren't captured."

Video from the interview:

Go deeper: McCain relishes his role as chief Trump critic

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Trump’s electricity shakeup

Today marks the starting gun in a battle for market share over America's stagnant electricity mix. Seeking to follow through on President Trump's campaign promises to revive coal and nuclear power, the Energy Department is asking an independent federal agency to issue a rule that would help those two fuel types. The stated aim is to ensure the electric grid is resilient to power outages and other vulnerabilities.

We've created a card deck to get you up to speed fast on how each fuel type is poised to gain — or lose — under the proposed changes.

Gritty details: The Energy Department's proposed rule would allow power plants operating in competitive markets, which make up more than half of the United States, to recover costs if they have 90 days worth of fuel on site.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency is requesting comments to that proposed rule be submitted by today. Groups representing most energy types other than coal and nuclear power are worried, because it could erode their otherwise growing market shares and upend the power market as it's known today. FERC makes the final decision, and its commissioners have expressed caution about following through with the rule.

What's next: The Energy Department has asked FERC to make a decision after 15 days, but many don't expect the independent agency to act that fast.

Read more: Check out this Axios slide deck breaking down the market share for each electricity source.

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Ivanka hits the road to sell tax reform, child tax credit

Photo: Jose Luis Magana / AP

Ivanka Trump heads to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on Monday to talk tax reform, according to a senior administration official. She'll appear at a White House tax reform town hall, alongside U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza, and former New York Rep. Nan Hayworth will moderate the event.

Pressure's on: Since the campaign, Ivanka has openly pushed for expanding the child tax credit. The Big Six tax reform plan would do that. But some fiscal conservatives worry it will only make the deficit worse. It remains to be seen whether House Republicans' final tax plan will keep the child tax credit expansion that Ivanka and the administration are lobbying for as part of their plan for "middle class relief." So that will be a big part of her focus in Pennsylvania.

  • Ivanka been working towards that end with the National Economic Council, the Office of Legislative Affairs and Treasury; and, as we first reported a couple weeks ago, Jared and Ivanka have been having members of Congress over for dinner at their Washington D.C. residence. A senior admin official said the child tax credit is "part of her overall commitment to work on policies that help working families."

Despite concerns from fiscal conservatives, officials working on tax reform say support is building for the child tax proposal.

Momentum play: The administration's effort to sell tax reform has kicked into overdrive. The president sat down with Fox News' Maria Bartiromo on Friday for an interview aired today, his team placed a Trump Op-Ed that ran this morning in USA Today, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney hit the Sunday shows, and the president phoned into a conference call for House Republicans this afternoon, urging members to adopt the Senate budget this week and follow through to tax reform, saying, "We are on the verge of doing something very, very historic."

What's next: House Republicans are set to pass the Senate budget this week — even though it doesn't include top conservative priorities, like addressing the debt crisis through entitlement reform. They're putting those goals on the back burner in hopes of expediting tax reform.