There is no disputing the fact the emergence and advancement of technology has drastically revolutionized the nature, scope, and processes of communication in this 21st century. As a result, several social media platforms and tech news sites have sprung up, with the most popular of the lot being Facebook. With the advent of social media and tech news sites, a new world has emerged, tilting off from the traditional or conventional systems of communications, interactions, research and even, opinion poll. In election campaigns, for instance, politicians have found the platform which social media provides as a veritable ground for conducting a poll, manipulating public opinion and ultimately influence voting outcomes.
With the realization that election campaigns and voting results can be influenced using social media and with the use of technological tools such as algorithms, politicians have engaged the biggest players and gurus in the social media sphere to ensure social media trends are in their favor. This has therefore increased the influence of social media and thereby, necessitated intermittent upgrades in technological tools as obtained in tech news sites, to meet the increasing demand, dimensions, and challenges. Subsequently, fake accounts, bots, and robot scripts are, therefore, created to track conversations, trend topics, comment/reply on posts, carry on false conversations/arguments, manipulate and distort opinion polls and much more on social media or tech news sites.
What do Tech News Sites say about these Bots / Fake Accounts ?
Latest technology updates reveals that, according to a study by Oxford University, published on Monday, 17th July 2017, Facebook and Twitter bots especially, infiltrated and had a huge influence on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election of the United States that produced President Trump. One of those bots and fake accounts was @ilduce2016; a Twitter bot/fake account that was setup to troll Donald Trump and eventually, forced him to a conversation.
The study also revealed that bots were also being actively used for â€œdisinformation, political attacks, and they amplified perspectives.â€ They were also used to â€œmanufacture consensusâ€ and â€œdemocratize online (political) propaganda,â€ presenting a false sense of public support for and acceptance of the views and ideologies of politicians. The consequence of these is of course, very damaging to politicians from the opposition camp as, they can batter politiciansâ€™ reputation, influence their popularity and eventually defeat them in election polls.
How Bots fit into all of this
Bots, according to Hackernoon.com, one of the foremost tech news sites, control 50% of internet traffic. Tech experts also agree that without “some” bots and spiders, search engines would not be able to function properly. However, outside that usage there are also automated computer programs by anonymous persons executed to create social media accounts and mimic users. So Bots can instantly trend topics, news or conversations. These trends find their way to different social media platforms, especially giants like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, thereby manipulating users of these platforms and ensuring trends favor politicians which they were designed for.
Similar to that on the 2016 Presidential election of the United States, Oxford University researched the impact of bots and fake accounts on the BREXIT Debate. Its findings as published on different tech news sites revealed that automated (fake) accounts created by both divides in the BREXIT Debate created bots to have an overwhelming influence on the referendum vote. According to the researchers, the social media bots and fake accounts helped to send â€œrepetitiveâ€ political contents to manipulate the minds of the audience on these various social media platforms. They just share or tweet intermittently the contents they are programmed to and flood the conversation space with false conversations.
However, the role these bots and fake accounts played in Brexit was more pronounced after the vote, when a petition for a second referendum on British membership of the EU was hijacked by bots forging well over 77,000 digital signatures as revealed by the organizers of the referendum.
Who Decides the Future ?
After detailed studies on the global trends in electioneering debates, conversations, campaigns, processes and outcomes, especially with the BREXIT and the US Presidential election, and how bots, fake accounts and robots scripts radically influenced all these, analysts are seemingly in consensus that future political and electoral processes and outcomes will largely be dependent on and determined by these social media automated programs.
The conclusion from these analysts is that “governments do not set the political agenda (on social media) anymore, but bots do.” The reason being that bots among other things have a two-fold edge over humans.One is their sheer volume which numbers over millions in an instant of activity: they tirelessly, constantly and are indefinitely louder and more forceful than human voices on any conversation or trend on social media platforms.
What do the Brexit researchers say ?
This was identified by researchers Philip N. Howard and Bence Kollanyi during the UK’s EU Referendum in June 2016, when they judged that a third of all Twitter traffic about BREXIT was most likely from robots because, they observed, “it is difficult for human users to maintain this rapid pace of Twitter activity.” An example of such robots was DroptheIBot which during the BREXIT debate, was virtually everywhere on Twitter at the same time, responding to every tweet with the phrase “illegal immigrant.” The snapped reply it tweeted was “people aren’t illegal; try saying ‘undocumented immigrant’ or unauthorized imminent instead.”
Another edge of these bots over humans is their ability to harvest data. Politicians source, aggregate and analyze data of social media users across all the major platforms for political gains. Bots carry out this assignment more assiduously and much faster than humans. Another Twitter bot/fake account, @EveryTrumpDonor was reported to have hooked into the US Federal election database and tweeted the name, location, and occupation of every Trump sponsor in the build-up to the US presidential election.
Next President chosen by Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg) ?
With Facebook recently conducting a research on Artificial Intelligence to determine the degree of influence of these bots and other automated programs on social media, and discovering that bots are rapidly overtaking real human beings in virtually all conversation and activity on Facebook, there are therefore, strong indications that political and electoral outcomes from now on, will be largely decided by bots. Tech news sites are awash with latest technology updates on the activities of these bots, exposing the constantly springing fake accounts and programs, and the trend doesnâ€™t seem to decrease.
Since Facebook, the largest social media platform in the world, with over One billion users, is one of the biggest carriers of these bots and automated fake accounts; donâ€™t you think Mark Zuckerberg has the potential to produce your next president? Who knows, he may pick himself.