If you’ve recently discussed politics on social media, the chances are high that you argued with a robot. Every day, hundreds of thousands of political conversations take place on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. Most people, however, aren’t aware that a considerably high number of interactions are not with actual flesh-and-blood people, but with robots – also referred to as “bots.” They are being used to direct public debate on social media, and influence the minds of social media users – that’s to say, pretty much everyone with an Internet connection.
The 2016 U.S. presidential election showed us how social media can affect – and in some cases, decide – electoral results. Google and Facebook – the general public’s main sources of information – tend to customize what information we receive. The result is that they show us only what we want to see, and this creates a distorted and unbalanced view of how we perceive reality.
During the bloody campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, bots were able to affect the flow of information on social media, shaping the debate and widening the divisions in American society. During the race, bots focused on making the Clinton email server scandal one of the most talked-about subjects, regardless of all the scandals surrounding Trump.