Death by online social robots

Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, via Wikimedia Commons

Moises Fuertes/Staff Writer 

There was a time, long ago it seems, when robotic programs were not an issue. These programs were irritating at best and spam-full at worst. But at the time, they could easily be identified for what they were: fake.

To this day, they still clog emails through their spam-centric communications- or attempts thereof. However, thanks to advances in technology, the artificial intelligence in these programs has soared. With these advances, bots have gained the ability to become human-like, and not many people seem to be making a big deal out of it.

Today’s sophisticated robotic programs, otherwise known as bots, are difficult to distinguish. They act like real human beings, communicate through the online channels we all use and are programmed to have sleep-wake cycles.

According to The New York Times, “Many of them have built-in databases of current events, so they can piece together phrases that seem relevant to their target audience.”

Left unchecked, these bots will inevitably destroy online communications.

Companies- and politicians- are using bots to flood social media sites like Twitter with the messages they wish the public to see, thereby injecting the stream with fake support for their products or policies. The Syrian government has used similar tactics to silence any opposing group. This technology certainly gives a whole new level of control to dictatorships that employ this it to silence what little opposition exists by literally flooding online communications.

The same Times article mentions that 20,000 tweets were sent out by two accounts in 2010 to promote the Website of John A. Boehner, the House minority leader at the time.

[pullquote]Left unchecked, these bots will inevitably destroy online communications.[/pullquote]

The best way to fight this development, as always, is to make people aware. Champions of freedom of speech should be scared of this technological development. For as great the potential of this technology in other areas, such as autonomous cars, there is little point in freedom of speech if the speech itself is never heard or seen.

The technology isn’t the problem. The problem is how certain companies and governments are using it.

Every major shift in the way we communicate has been life-changing. But we need to understand them properly. Deliberately lying to people is against the public interest.

Limits on the usage of robot software in communications need to be placed. 


1. “I Flirt and Tweet. Follow Me at #Socialbot,” via The New York Times

About the Author

Moises Fuertes
: a Digital Media Studies student at FIU. His productions include audio commercials, video coverage/reviews and still-image projects. He specializes in the video game industry and social media.