Researchers use machine learning to unearth underground Instagram ‘pods’

Not all engagement with posts on social networks is organic, according to a team of researchers at New York University Tandon School of Engineering and Drexel University, who have published the first analysis of a robust underground ecosystem of “pods.” These groups of users manipulate curation algorithms and artificially boost content popularity — whether to increase the reach of promoted content or amplify rhetoric — through a tactic known as “reciprocity abuse,” whereby each member reciprocally interacts with content posted by other members of the group.