With the past American presidential election, the topic of bots has become front and center and the word has found its way into the common person’s nomenclature. These bots, programmed by foreign powers, are here to stay but what are these bots and why should you care about them?
What is a Bot?
A bot is simply a computer program that is programmed to imitate actual people online. These bots can be used on many social media platforms to push a message that its programmers have given it. Since these bots are not human beings they can operate 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and are constantly looking for any avenue to push their message.
How are these bots contributing to polarity online?
The use of bots by foreign governments is specifically designed as a campaign to push conflicting information to the general public with the hope and aim to create a divide. Most people are not easily able to determine if the social media account they are following is a bot or an actual person and when looking at a retweet or repost of content it becomes prohibitively time-consuming to try and fact check these posts. These armies of bots also have specific target demographics in their sights when launching a campaign. People who lean either left or right of the political spectrum are easily swayed to follow along with certain trains of thought. For example, people who identify as conservative or ‘right-wing” are often very concerned with the restriction of their ‘rights’ one of these being the ownership of firearms. Any claim in regards to this will undoubtedly get their attention and once their attention is secured then further misinformation can be fed to them. These claims do not need to be true they just need to sound true. The same tactic can be used to sway opinion on those who lean to the left as well.
One such objective of these bots is to artificially widen the rift between the left and the right sides of the political spectrum. This division serves as a distraction tactic to get people to see each other as the enemy all the while the foreign operated bots continue their campaigns in the shadows to spread fake news and outright false claims in order to further the overall goals.
What is the goal of these bots?
The end goal of these armies of code is truly only known by the individuals who seek to have them programmed and unleashed into the internet. One thing is clear the use of bots can influence a lot more than just the opinions of a few groups of people. The unfortunate truth is that it is virtually impossible for the average user of the internet or the average member of a social media platform to properly fact check and confirm all the information that we are bombarded with.
All we can do is try and keep a cool head and think about everything critically before we believe anything we read online.