ICA 2018: Understanding Bots for Policy and Research: Challenges, Methods, and Solutions
Robert Gorwa and Doug Guilbeault will be representing the team and presenting a new paper at ICA 2018 in Prague.
What are the challenges facing bot research today? How can policymakers tackle the new era of disinformation, if the very concept of what ‘bots’ are remains inchoate? Rob and Doug tackle these questions, and others in their draft paper, ‘Understanding Bots for Policy and Research: Challenges, Methods, and Solutions.’
Amidst widespread reports of digital influence operations during major elections, policymakers, scholars, and journalists have become increasingly interested in the political impact of social media ‘bots.’ Most recently, platform companies like Facebook and Twitter have been summoned to testify about bots as part of investigations into digitally-enabled foreign manipulation during the 2016 US Presidential election. Facing mounting pressure from both the public and from legislators, these companies have been instructed to crack down on apparently malicious bot accounts. But as this article demonstrates, since the earliest writings on bots in the 1990s, there has been substantial confusion as to exactly what a ‘bot’ is and what exactly a bot does. We argue that multiple forms of ambiguity are responsible for much of the complexity underlying contemporary bot-related policy, and that before successful policy interventions can be formulated, a more comprehensive understanding of bots — especially how they are defined and measured — will be needed. In this article, we provide a history and typology of different types of bots, provide clear guidelines to better categorize political automation and unpack the impact that it can have on contemporary technology policy, and outline the main challenges and ambiguities that will face both researchers and legislators concerned with bots in the future.