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Democracy Being Threatened By Social Media Bots

November 14, 2017 No Comments

Featured article by Kaya Johnson, Independent Technology Author

robots 300x214 Democracy Being Threatened By Social Media Bots

Can social media bots, which are tiny pieces of software, which perform automated tasks potentially, influence humans on social media platforms? Ever since the 2016 elections investigators from the Congress have been questioning social media companies after fears that bots were deployed for influencing public opinion during the presidential elections.

Researchers had confirmed that bots had the potential to influence people on social media half a decade ago when they determined the power of tiny pieces of software would indeed sway the minds of people. An experimental contest was even run by the Institute For the Future to understand how bots could be used to influence people on the social media platform Twitter.

Researchers at that time determined that the power of bots would be used as tools for social betterment for warning people of earthquakes or connecting to peace activists. They were aware that bots could also be used by the unscrupulous to spread false information or to skew online polling.

Mainstream media published the findings of the researchers when the papers were released after conducting experiments on bots. However, the tech policymakers and social activist communities were not alarmed until social media manipulation, which was automated eventually, became front-page news in 2017.

Presently a number of politicians have begun to use bots to promote themselves and tell the world how good they are or how bad their opponent is. Boats have become even more sophisticated since the initial experiment was conducted in 2012. The people who are building the bots are spending time and plenty of effort to generate believable personas that are in most cases having a good presence on multiple social media sites and are potentially capable of entrenching the minds of thousands of people rather than just a few. Bot usage has expanded itself to political communications and is now similar to a slot machine, which can be accessed by any individual with even a cell phone.

A great example of the power of bots was visible during the 2016 elections when they had been unleashed deliberately on social media platforms to sway voter opinion by deceiving the trending algorithms and managing the spread fake news. Fears are now being expressed of political manipulation having real implications for the US midterm elections in 2018. Research conducted recently is suggesting that the people that are initiating digital propaganda are focusing their attention on particular subsections within the US population and in constituencies, which are commonly known as the swing states.

Bots are getting more sophisticated by the day even as social media platforms are not willing to divulge information on personalized advertising from political clients of the domestic variety. It will not be long before bots have the ability to affect society by using computational means. It clearly indicates that social media bots is threatening democracy and a method has to be discovered to circumvent the possibility.

The possibility of monitoring bots certainly exists and scientists can develop the means to make the data analysis and uncover patterns to detect signals of change. It only requires political will on the part of tech policymakers to safeguard democracy, which is being threatened by social media bots.


Kaya Johnson is a 38-year-old sales accountant from Yorkshire. Though not a professional writer it’s her hobby to put together articles from time to time. She lives alone and sometimes has free time to write a piece or two.



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