WASHINGTON - A new study found almost 80 % of tweets promoting e-cigarettes are likely coming from automated social media accounts known as bots.
The study by The Public Good Projects (PGP) said the ads by suspected bots lead to concerns about teens being able to buy e-cigarettes online because the ads often link to online sales.
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"There are a lot of sales and promotions. A ton,” PGP CEO Dr. Joe Smyser said.
Smyser said the group looked for automation to identify bots.
"It kind of ranges from human beings who are just using the tools of digital marketers all the way to this account was originally made by a human and it now is just doing things automatically,” Smyser said.
The pro-vaping community is fighting back against the study.
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Hundreds of self-proclaimed e-cigarette users are turning to social media with hashtags like #Notabot and #wevapewevote that are now trending.
"We vape and we vote,” one Twitter user said in a video.
"Here I am. Clearly not a bot,” another Twitter user said in a video post.
One man wrote: “That’s right. I’m a real human vaper and voter” and included a photo of himself holding a sign that said “3 Years Smoke Free.”
The president of the American Vaping Association blasted the study, calling the data unreliable.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, are also asking questions about the potential use of social media bots for e-cigarettes.
The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent five letters to e-cigarette manufacturing companies asking questions about their research and marketing practices. One question asked if the companies use bots.
A spokesperson for the committee said so far, the companies who have answered have all said they do not use bots.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, 1,479 lung injury cases have been associated with vaping and 33 deaths have been linked to it nationwide.
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