Wannabes: TMSIDK Episode 15

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Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden joins TMSIDK in Washington, D.C. to judge the “Wannabes.” (Photo: Anthony Washington)

Twitter has a problem: a massive Russian botnet — accounts controlled by computer programs. They tweet, they follow each other, but they’re not people. By almost every measure, they look like any other Twitter account — but there’s one simple observation that can unmask them as bots. Benford’s law, a mathematical pattern, says that 1s are by far the most common first digit in natural systems, and it goes down for each digit from there. This works on numbers in nearly everything, like tax returns, magazines, the surface area of all the planet’s lakes. So how can this rule help expose botnets?

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know travels to Washington, D.C. — the city that wants to be a state — to learn about wannabes, from international spies to new human organs. Our panelists are:

Tim Harford, “Undercover Economist” and host of the BBC podcast More or Less, who once matched wits with [a] James Bond.

Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, who can’t wink but can dream of a career on the baseball diamond.

Rahmein Mostafavi, one of D.C.’s top comics, who achieved one of his “wannabe” dreams …and lived to regret it.

Our real-time fact-checker is Femi Oke, international journalist, who struggles to get Americans to understand her.