Living in the Age of Technology, one would like to think that means the vast amount of information available to vulnerable and impressionable internet users is verified and fact checked.
But that isn’t the case.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow for the expansive and inevitable spread of misinformation as millions of users post and share content ranging from tweets to video-streams.
The mere ability to share across multiple platforms is dangerous when one considers the fact that false information posted to one particular website can be shared and streamed to several other sites and platforms in just a matter of seconds.
Though search engines and platforms such as Google and Facebook are initiating efforts to detect and prevent the spread of misinformation, identifying and terminating fake news and fake accounts is much easier said than done.
Not only is the internet accessible by millions of humans worldwide, it’s also accessible by millions of software programs known as bots.
Bots are data-collecting programs that gather and spread information about websites and web searches to advertisers, marketers, and programmers.
While bots have the potential for goodness and are often used to benefit advertisers and users, many people are not aware of the capabilities and malintentions of automated bots such as social and political bots.
Social bots are used across social media platforms and are programmed to collect information pertaining to certain interests and groups, and in many cases, they can automatically produce content and interact with human users. Bots that mimic and emulate human-user behaviors are harmful because they are used to infiltrate specific networks of social media users in order to create information bubbles.
These information bubbles target specific internet users as bots cherry-pick and string together information across various platforms and browsers. The gathered information is then distributed to targeted users, whether it’s accurate or not.
Information bubbles are dangerous because the data collected and shared appears to reflect the views of a vast majority, but in reality it only reflects particular, small-scale views and beliefs. Political bots differ in motivation, but operate all the same. They are used to increase support for a specific candidate by producing content that promotes one candidate and disparages another candidate of an opposing party.
According to the article “How Twitter Bots Are Shaping the Election” political bots played a large role in the 2016 presidential election because “the illusion of online support for a candidate can spur actual support through a bandwagon effect.”
As social media expands and progresses with each passing day, it’s not only important for the average internet user to understand the technology at work, but it’s integral for users stay wary of programmers and bots with the sole intent to distribute false information and disrupt the public.
With tremendous technology and immeasurable information at our fingertips, the responsibility to verify and fact-check information lies in the hands of individual internet users.