Malicious Bots

A Primer on Social Media Bots And Their Malicious Use In U.S. Politics

This full paper is in PDF format, and can be found through the links in the text below or at the bottom of the page. 

Tens of millions of malicious bots – automated accounts programmed to tweet or post in a manner masquerading as humans – infest our social media platforms, and many are being used deceptively for political purposes. These “computational propaganda” accounts fake petition signatures, skew poll results, sow discord and spread falsehoods. In doing so, they pose a serious danger to democracy.

They’ve been deployed by Russia and others to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Brexit vote, the 2017 French election and more. As America approaches the 2018 and 2020 election seasons, the threat will only grow – weaponized social bots will become more convincing and harder to detect.

To help those in the political arena better understand this new phenomenon, NDN is proud to release a new paper, "A Primer on Social Media Bots and Their Malicious Use in US Politics." Written by our long time collaborator Tim Chambers, this paper lays out in plain, simple English what bots are, how they are being used, and some ways we can together combat their impact in the days ahead.

Especially as we approach the 2018 and 2020 elections, it is critical that we understand and counteract this threat now, or we will lose this new form of information war. We must develop more and better technological defenses. We must demand that our social networks build for the good of the countries they act in, not just for their own profits. And we must adopt laws and policies that protect our democracy while safeguarding social media’s enormous potential to enhance the democratic process. This compelling new paper offers some early thinking on how we may want to approach taking on the bots. Please let us know what you think of it, and feel free to share with others you think might be interested.

Update: Since publication of the paper, Simon and Tim were quoted in this Yahoo Finance piece, "Maybe Facebook and Twitter should be regulated like TV".

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