Political actors around the world are beginning to use social bots—automated software programs designed to interact with and imitate human users–to manipulate public opinion. Social bots have been used across numerous online platforms to spread various forms of propaganda, flood newsfeeds with political spam, and pad politicians’ social media follower lists. In many regimes, political leaders and government officials have commissioned bots to aggressively attack opponents, whether those opponents are civil society groups or the opposition candidates in rigged elections.
The algorithms that run bot software are often proprietary and hidden, and the content that a particular bot produces might be unexpected—even by coders—because bots operate in collaboration with real users. This talk highlights the history and trajectory of political bots via the presentation of a globally comparative event dataset alongside information gathered in the field from the makers and trackers of this technology.
Samuel Woolley conducts research on politics, digital culture and automation at the University of Washington’s Department of Communication. Currently, he is investigating the global usage of political bots–software programs used to mimic human social media users in attempts to manipulate public opinion. He tweets from @samuelwoolley.
Data & Society’s “Databites” speaker series presents timely conversations about the purpose and power of technology, bridging our interdisciplinary research with broader public conversations about the societal implications of data and automation.