Exactly who are the Bots?

Head over to chatbotsmagazine.com to read our most recent blog.

“Social Media, Bots, China, Authenticity. As part of our research and development work, we are looking into the deployment of Political Bots in Social Media. Currently, we are reviewing the academic research literature on the design and deployment of Political Bots in campaigns taking place in the USA, South America and more recently the UK.”

https://chatbotsmagazine.com/exactly-who-are-the-bots-576ce6cf6ad8#.1s6awvwus

 

As part of our research and development work, we are looking into the deployment of Political Bots in Social Media. Currently, we are reviewing the academic research literature on the design and implementation of Political Bots in campaigns taking place in the USA, South America and more recently the UK. A fascinating paper just published in the US has drawn our attention to the so-called ’50 cent army’, the considerable body of unpaid social media bloggers who act in a concerted way to further the social media goals of the Chinese government. The most substantial ‘Bot’ army in the world.

Although the existence of the ‘army’ has been known about for some time it was also reported by bloggers, the press and academics that they were paid — hence the 50 cents in their name. It was also widely understood that their role was to argue with political dissidents and to attack foreign governments.

The research publication has very thoroughly debunked all of these ideas.

Yes they do exist in their hundreds of thousands (perhaps as many as 2,000,000 in fact), but no they do not argue with dissidents online, and no they do not get paid.

What I found interesting, indeed now that I have thought about it, deeply troubling is the fact that I am unsure how different this army of unpaid social media actors promoting an ideology is from my own experiences. I came to the research, as someone who represents the paid, independent thinking, creative and above all individual bloggers, tweeters and Linkedin updaters here in the English speaking world. In short, confident of my efforts and the cultural superiority of English speaking Social Media discourse. Mindful that I should avoid making unfounded even racist assumptions and keen to learn from this phenomena, I’ve since spent some time testing my case.

First, there is the matter that the 50 cent army is unpaid, largely but wholly performing their social media role as part of the requirements of their day job.  Blogging and tweeting etc. is for many of us part of routine during working hours. Although, surely independent thinking is a clear distinguishing feature of approaches to the task?

The Chinese human bots are not told what to write, the actual content is their own, but instead directed ‘when’ and frequently ‘what’ to write. Our content production schedule is often remarkably similar, although I suspect we have devolved the problem as to what issues are to be covered far lower in the organisation than the Chinese government chooses to.

The question then, as to whether or not we are more or less creative in our writing is nothing more than a matter of judgement. I have to say that the overwhelming mass of material produced and pushed through social media does not always bear the hallmark of human creativity. In fact, it’s often quite the reverse, and not least because a lot of material is in fact produced and indeed commented upon by Bots of one kind or another.

There is also the question of my individuality, the authenticity of the ‘voice’ that is created and disseminated via social media.

Here I came to the worrying conclusion that I have long applied some measure of authenticity to the writings of others. That is to say; I always decide based on the context, my take on the motivation and the content, whether or not I feel that someone I am reading is authentic. By which I mean the extent to which what they say is a representation of who they are and what they believe. Frankly not only do I frequently come across work produced in an inauthentic voice, but I create work in this vein myself.

In presenting ourselves to others, not least through social media, we take care to give ourselves in a voice which is merely acceptable, meeting norms of language, social values — including political values, that we feel are congruent with the expectations of our audience. In short, there is, of course, a place for my individuality in Social Media, and I use it. However, by no means is all that ‘me’ or, I would argue many of us. Instead, we are often simply followers, and even when we are not following, careful to edit ourselves before creating public discourse.

Our research has already shown how low quality social media content produced by Robots can be very hard, if not impossible to separate from that created by humans. But now I am left wondering, embedded as I am in reading and writing for the torrent of Social Media feeds — just exactly who are the Bots?