Social bots are used in social media networks to automatically generate messages including Tweets and posts, in order to advocate specific ideas, support campaigns, counter other social media postings and sometimes to pretend to be a person and attract followers etc.
Social bots appear to have played a significant role in the United States presidential election in 2016 but they have been in use since 2010.
Twitterbots are already well-known examples, but there are corresponding bots on Facebook and other social media networks.
Social bots are expected to play a growing role in elections and national votes unless legislation is enacted to restrict their impact.
Oxford University Study
A study by Oxford University says “Facebook and Twitter Bots Are Starting to Influence Our Politics” and this is a warning that the influence of social bots should can no longer be ignored.
The report from Oxford University looked at the effect that social media bots pretending to be real users online, had on the 2016 president election. Researchers aimed to determine whether the bots were actually able to affect the flow of information.
The finding was that bots did have a significant influence on digital communication during the 2016 U.S. election,.
Social bots are used "for spreading disinformation, political attacks and amplified perspectives," the study said. Research shows that politicians and campaigns have used bots in the United States and abroad in the past, allowing them to "manufacture consensus" and "democratize online propaganda" — meaning their views appear to be supported by a mass of real people.
These are social bots pretending to be real people and these are increasingly being used on social media to affect public opinion in many countries. These fake profiles are common in Russia, the US and Germany among other countries.
Jeremy Corbyn's election campaign in 2017 campaign was boosted by fake Twitter accounts, regardless of whether his people had any involvement in setting them up. They were churning out an average of 1,000 messages a day favouring Labour.
A study by the FT reported that during the BREXIT referendum campaign, "the 20 most prolific accounts … displayed indications of high levels of automation". This supported research last year, again from Oxford, that found that "on average 12.3% of traffic about UK politics is generated by highly automated accounts".
Bots with large numbers of followers are the ideal conduits for disinformation, sharing fake news within the echo chambers that have grown out of the content display logic of social media algorithms.
One in eight political stories shared on Twitter in the run-up to the general election is from a "junk news source", according to latest research.
The study found content about the Labour Party dominated traffic in the 2017 General Election.
Research was based on an analysis of political news links shared by UK users in the first week of May 2017
UK users shared one link from automated bot accounts promoting "junk" information for every four links to professionally produced news, according to the Oxford Internet Institute.
Of those shared, 53% linked to professional news and information sources, while 13% linked to junk news - stories that are misleading or conflate opinion and fact.
The rest of the sample included links to content created by politicians, experts and blogs.
The Guardian has run several stories claiming that Cambridge Analytics is “a shadowy global operation involving big data” that also made a difference in the U.K. Brexit vote.
The company claim they can persuade people to take a particular action by triggering psychological cues but the results are mixed and they have famous failures including when they backed Senator Ted Cruz to become Republican nominee and that didn’t happen.
There is little evidence that their support for Donald Trump’s campaign was helpful.
Trump’s Twitter following is estimated to be only 30 percent fake. That’s a lower percentage than, @barackobama — or The Washington Post. So you can see how widespread this problem has become.
Out of Control
Some people think that social bots are out of control and give too much power to those with the technology, but a lot may simply be good Marketing by these companies selling the technology.
It is very likely that the effects of social bots will grow as they become battlegrounds in major votes.
Maybe something has to be done about this.
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