Will Social “Bots” Used For “Propaganda” Destroy Social Media?

It’s hardly surprising to learn that governments and other political groups have been using social network bots to control the way we see our information. What is shocking, however, is just how prevalent they truly are. In fact, depending on where you live, they could control the entire social media landscape.

Recently, Oxford University researchers published a study showing that “computational propaganda” is remarkably common. In Russia, for example, 45 percent of Twitter activity stems from “highly automated” accounts. Ukrainian nationalist and civil society groups are also using digital propaganda systems to sway public opinion.

China has also made headlines for using a mix of bots and human-guided social attacks on Taiwan’s president. In Brazil, bots have attacked political figures and even rallied protests—an effort that began after the 2014 presidential election. And in Poland, a handful of right-wing social accounts represent 20 percent of all political discussions throughout the country.

Researchers confirmed that 29 countries are using social networks to skew opinions both at home and internationally. And the United States made that list.

Twitter bots reportedly achieved “highly influential network positions” during the 2016 presidential election. And though these bots aren’t inherently bad, it is difficult to determine when digital propaganda has gone too far. Perhaps the most important thing is understanding their existence.

“Bots are algorithms acting in social media networks,” Forbes notes. “But to the outside world, they look like a real user. They can come in all shapes and sizes….Some of them are very simple. And there are loads of services that will offer you bots, ranging from bots who will like whatever you post and fake followers to much more.”

One study showed that 30% of users can be deceived by a bot, and well-constructed bots are even designed to gain your trust. That’s a problem when 1 in 5 of us accepts unknown friend requests.

Source: engadget.com, aimblog.uoregon.edu

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