Earlier today Josh Russell published a list of “NPC” accounts on Twitter. Nominally this seems to be tied to a “New Progressive Coalition”, but there are several humorous takes on the meaning of the acronym.
While a deadly accurate send up of Progressive sensibilities this election cycle, there were 450+ very similar accounts on the list when we started the profiling process, so it might have begun as a human wave of image board kids, but there is some sort automation at work here, which makes it interesting.
One of the strengths of our system is the ability to rapidly snapshot a group like this. We quickly collected 425 of them before they began to rename or self-suspend. We collect up to 3,200 tweets, up to 5,000 of those they follow as well as accounts following them, and we extract all mentions. Making a mention map with Gephi is typically our first step; social networks can be voluminous, while mentions are both bounded by the maximum tweet count as well as time stamped. This lets us see what activity the accounts are involved in, as well as slicing by time when appropriate.
These 425 sources mentioned 7,687 other accounts – a network motif we refer to as a “monkey pile”. Filtering out individual mentions left 2,333 other accounts, a 66% reduction in complexity. Sizing names by Eigenvector centrality permits us to see who they are messaging.
The @NPC691 account is key in this network and examining its timeline we see they are an early adopter of this particular meme – 72 hours before it became this general outburst.
Collection on this took less than half an hour. If this were anything other than a harmless bit of fun, the 9,230 unique followers of these accounts are preserved, as are the 12,008 accounts they follow. We can see there are 4,793 accounts that are mutually following, so our 425 account sample may only be 10% of this total network.
Trying to do this by eye would be an impossible task. The ability to collect large amounts of information quickly and then rapidly analyze the take is key in an age of cyborgs and botnets mixing with a human operated account population.