Chances are, if you’re on social media, you’ve come across an internet bot.
These bots take on the appearance of normal accounts but are either generated or adapted by computers to post a large amount of content.
“There’s kind of a specter, if you will,” says Helen Margetts,
director of the public policy program at the Alan Turing Institute.
“It could be more of a kind of human-machine collaboration where a human delivers multiple pieces of content – in a near-automated fashion – but essentially does so at a rate that a human probably couldn’t handle.” . “
For the past few years, experts have suspected that bots have been intentionally used to interfere with elections and democratic processes.
Professor Renaud Lambiotte, who co-wrote a report on the impact of bots on the UK elections, said: “One possibility is that bots fundamentally reinforce the separation between people with different opinions.
“But they can also be used to give importance or they can help validate some people just by increasing the number of votes or tweets or likes they have on social media.”
However, Margetts warns that we still do not have enough information to draw conclusions about the impact of these robots on our democracy.
“What impact does it have? This is the really important question, ”she said.
“You take all the misinformation out there, which misinformation actually makes a difference, which affects your belief in what is true and what is not. “
“We’re only at the beginning of knowing what kind of impact this has on our political views.”
In 2019, shortly before the UK elections in December, the government delayed the release of the Russia report, a report examining Russian interference in the UK elections.
When it was finally published, the report found that the government “had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in Britain’s democratic processes”, and had made no serious effort to do so.
“The government is not ready to watch this. They say there is no evidence that there was, ”says Tom Blake, director of Unlock Democracy.
“The only problem with this is that no one in the intelligence and security family has been asked to look for evidence.”
“The evidence seems to indicate that Eastern Europe is the primary source, certainly for many bots and sorts of organized Facebook groups that target the US and even the UK.”
So how do you fight back against these bots, and who is responsible for fighting this battle?
“Social media companies [must] their game, ”says Margetts.
“And for centuries, they kind of said they couldn’t, even though they already were. But they sort of underestimated how much they could make.
So the next time you see an inflammatory social media statement from a weird account, maybe check the facts first.
Twitter and Facebook could not be reached for comment.