A social media bots refer to an account that programmatically posts content. Many bots serve good purposes such as reporting and gathering information. The data from bots can help businesses, governments, news agencies and even security professionals.But Sometimes its bad for us.
Did you see one of these articles on Facebook while considering who to vote for in the election?
- Pope Francis Endorses Trump
- WikiLeaks Confirms Hillary sold Weapons to ISIS…
- Hillary’s ISIS Email Just Leaked…
- Hillary is Disqualified from Holding any Federal Office
- FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Murder-Suicide
One false news source received close to 3 million engagements. The question is, how many of those interactions were from fake accounts used to spread the lies? How many people believed these stories were true? Were these false articles linked to the ads purchased by the Russian organization? The story also shows genuine articles that well-known U.S. news sources posted at the same time and the number of engagements.
According to the study [PDF]:
These bots mislead, exploit and manipulate social media discourse with rumours, spam, malware, misinformation, political astroturf, slander or even just noise. This results in several levels of societal harm. For example, bots used in political astroturf artificially inflate support for a candidate; their activity can endanger democracy by influencing the outcome of elections.
What do social media bots do?
In some cases, social bots have attacked other accounts. A Daily Beast reporter explains how an army of bots probably got him kicked off Twitter after a story about suspicious pro-Kremlin activity by fake Twitter accounts. A former FBI agent claims Russian bots are posting calls to fire the National Security Advisor. Brian Krebs writes that Twitter bots use likes and retweets for intimidation. Other nefarious uses for social media accounts include sending secret messages and getting people to click on malicious links to download malware. Twitter bots can also act as a command and control channel that sends commands to hosts infected with malware such as banking trojans.
Bots will often use a common #hashtag or set of hashtags to push an agenda. Hashtags start with a pound symbol and use a common phrase so people can find related tweets. Hashtags are useful at conferences where organizers publicize a common hashtag. Conference attendees can search for a hashtag on Twitter to find each other and see related posts. Real and fake accounts also use hashtags to support an agenda such as winning an election or selling a product.
Tools That Help Detect Twitter Bots
Hamilton 68 displays a dashboard that watches the activity of Twitter accounts linked to what they consider to be Russian influence operators and reports. After the Charlottesville riots, reports showed that these accounts were heavily using the #antifa hashtag.
So what does this all mean for you?
Ultimately, social bots could be damaging because they are becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect. Bots are also easily used for malicious purposes, and as the paper speculates, any organization with sufficient resources and motivations could dominate a topic or conversation. Bots aren’t just bad for business, they’re bad for society.
Bots can essentially become spam if they follow too many accounts.Look out for accounts interacting with your content whose usernames consist of only letters or numbers or are commenting very simple or vague phrases such as “That’s awesome!” Also, please don’t spam your followers if you buy bots. Choose carefully who you wish to follow or ask a bot to engage with. Use a deft and light touch. In other words, don’t send a bot to a valuable influencer’s account.