Social Bots – Short Explanation

You are probably familiar with chatbots or other tools of a similar nature for service and support. Chatbots provide customers with a beneficial way of gaining access to information in a timely and effective manner. They are a huge boon to support and customer service teams as they can deflect common customer issues while ensuring customers still obtain help and assistance.

Sadly, social bots are not as innocent or beneficial. They are most well known as the bots and tools used on social media sites to guide and influence opinions and discussions. Social bots are not all bad – companies often use them for marketing reasons. However, when they simulate humans on social networks purely to influence opinion, whether that is for a product or a president, they can be dangerous.

Social Bots in the Real World

Social bots are already in use on many of the most popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. By posting positive reviews of a specific product or service, they can drive consumers towards a particular company. Similarly, by posting false or misleading information, they can be used to discredit companies and individuals.

Chatbots “chat” to customers – hence the name. Social bots are not as intelligent. As simple automated programs that reside on social media platforms, at times, their only purpose is to comment, follow, or like other posts and people. Due to this simplicity of operation, multiple social bots can be managed by a single individual. Chatbots, on the other hand, often require teams of people to maintain a single chatbot.

Social Bots in the World of AI

A 2016 study indicated that close to 50% of the traffic online is generated by bots. Since that time, the number of bots and the volume of traffic has only increased. Current statistics place the number of fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter at close to 15%.
Many bots have useful purposes online. They can provide updated weather and traffic information, information about earthquakes, and curated news headlines. The distinction between these bots and other social bots is that they are clearly defined as machines.

Social bots are primarily used to influence consumers with regards to purchases and citizens from a political point of view. They work by searching social networks for posts on a particular topic or conversation that matches their parameters. They then simulate human conversation (like a chatbot), often posting further deceptive or manipulative information. Social bots work by pretending to be humans.

Social bots are successful because they pretend to be human. Some of them actually even have fake sleep-wake cycles to better mimic human behavior. While they are programmed to work independently, in concert they can be very powerful. In fact, social bots are thought to have impacted the Brexit vote in 2016 and even the US presidential election.