No, I am not talking about zombie robots or cybernetic organisms here, I am talking about programmable web bots that fake the identities of real people in order to interact with social media accounts. If you think this sounds like science fiction, consider the fact that last week Twitter announcened that 15% of all “accounts” on their service, 48 million accounts to be exact, are actually fake – aka “Twitter Bots.”
If you are unfamiliar with this phenomenon then you might be wondering why there are so many of these bots and why people even create them in the first place? Well, I am glad you asked…
Believe me, Twitter is certainly not alone. If Twitter has 48 million of these things then I am willing to bet Facebook has hundreds of millions of them crawling around their web service. You can probably observe half of them on Breitbart alone 😉
I joke, kind of….
While some bots are deployed to track, record and monitor traffic/information on a website in order to collect data, most of these social media bots are used to make pages and/or individual posts appear more popular than they really are. This is particularly beneficial for all of these pay-per-click websites, also refereed to as “click-bait” sites. Others are created to disseminate political propaganda or intentionally stir up fights on controversial political issues – more on this further down.
Not only can these bots be programmed to act independently from their creator and “like” different postings on various pages, but they can also be programed to post comments or messages on these postings. Ever find yourself in a political argument online with a “person” who posts the same general response to everything no matter what anyone says, or “someone” who replies with a response having nothing whatsoever to do with the comment you just posted? Congratulations, while there are many stupid people online, more then likely you have just interacted with one of these web bots and didn’t even know it.
While it will never be 100% accurate, there are a few signs you can look for to determine if you might be interacting with a bot and not an actual person, first is the spelling of their name. If an account reads something like “Robn Wayne” with an obvious misspelling, more than likely this is a fake account. Second, if the account has less than 50 friends or well over 1,000 friends, it is either fake or programmed to like/follow as many people/accounts as possible – for obvious bot reasons. I also tend to notice that fake accounts/bots tend to use joke pictures or political banners as their profile pictures and cover photos and you will only ever see their feed filled up with memes of some kind – usually political motivated in one direction.
Tying all of this information in with the title of this article, you might be surprised to know that while some of these bots are set up by random hackers or website owners looking to make a few bucks on pay-per-clicks, many of them are actually designated by individual Governments or politicians to disseminate political propaganda online. If you think this sounds like “conspiracy theory,“then you clearly have a lot to learn about the world we live in.
Last year in an exclusive interview with Bloomberg Business, a hacker going by the name of Andrés Sepúlveda admitted how he was paid to hack elections in 9 different Latin American countries. These countries include Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, México, Panamá, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Honduras.
According to the report, Sepúlveda and his team offered various online packages to vendors/politicians, all designed to manipulate public opinion and shape political conversations online. Including going through such means as:
- Breaking into email databases, stealing the information and then spamming lies or political misinformation to all the database’s users
- Creating thousands of social media accounts, or bots, to to spam false and/or negative statements about political rivals online.
- Sepúlveda himself operated a personal team of over 30,000 Twitter bots to bump up “likes” and “followers,” making his clients and their policies appear more popular than they really were
- Generating Meme’s aimed at mocking political opponents and using these accounts to make them go viral.
- Writing a software program entitled “Social Media Predator” which managed to fake a multitude of additional Twitter Accounts not included above.
- Creating fake Youtube video’s to troll candidates by expressing fake/exaggerated outrage over public policies
- Setting up automated computers designed specifically to repeatedly call databases of tens of thousands of voters the night before an election.
- Creating aliases impersonating extremist homosexuals whom were outraged over gay rights in order to alienate candidates on a polarizing issue – burying important policy debates on other matters in the process.
Mr. Sepúlveda operated a team of 7-15 hackers/programmers and claims to have received more than $600,000 from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto alone. Sepúlveda says he charged all of his other clients anywhere from $12,000 – $20,000 a month for the same services mentioned above. If you doubt Sepúlveda’s credibility in this matter, consider the fact that he is currently in prison for these very crimes.
The important thing you need to understand is that Latin America is not alone, this practice has become the norm in elections and countries the world over. For example, after a series of leaks last year Harvard University released a report chronicling how the Chinese Government “fabricates and posts about 488 million social media comments a year.” To put some perspective on this, 1 out of ever 178 posts on Chinese social media is state sponsored political propaganda.
The study goes on to explain that this is done in order to project a sense of nationalistic pride for the Chinese Government. For example, if there is a piece of news that reflects negatively on a Chinese officials or the Government, the Government will deploy their social media accounts to fake support for and stand up for the country.
Other tactics involves making highly controversial and/or completely off topic statements to people discussing important political issues or events, to get people belligerently arguing with one another instead of intellectually discussing opposing political beliefs. Another tactic involves making accounts claiming to support a person,issue or cause and then proceeding to make crazy or over the top statements in favor of that person, issue or cause. This is done to make all the real supports seem crazy and/or extreme and therefore turn off regular people from ever wanting to support or associate with the cause themselves.
Here in America we call this practice “triggering,” but it is far from an American concept. With that said, is any of this starting to seem like many of the conversations you are getting used to seeing on American news media outlets lately? Are you naive enough to actually believe that the United States is unscathed by all of this activity and our Government is completely innocent in the matter?
I mean its not like we just elected the most unorthodox President in United States history on the verge of a fake news fiasco or anything….