- 01 Mar 18
Twitter bots came to prominence during the US election, when their use by Russian agents was said to have aided Donald Trump’s victory. But they have now arrived in Ireland – and are being utilised by anti-choice elements ahead of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment.
On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. So goes the adage, first coined by New Yorker cartoonist Peter Steiner as a comment on internet anonymity.
Little did Steiner know that this statement – made in 1993 – would prove so relevant in the current era of digital disinformation. Replace the word ‘dog’ with ‘bot’, and what we’ve got is an accurate depiction of the current online landscape, which is being increasingly influenced by nefarious agents.
So, what is a bot? On a very basic level, bots are automated software, used to carry out tasks on behalf of humans. Their earliest usage included sending spam emails; and gathering lots of data on a particular subject – in which guise they are known as web scrapers. Recent research from the University of Southern California and Indiana University found that there are approximately 50 million bots currently active on Twitter – that’s approximately 15% of total users. In part, this is because Twitter’s API is an open platform, which enables real-time posting and parsing of information.