Bots — chunks of computer code that generate messages and replicate themselves — have been infecting political discourse around the world. They have been spotted try to influence elections in the United Kingdom, Mexico and just recently, South Korea. Politicians there have been using bots to torment their opponents, muddle political conversations, and misdirect debate. We need political leaders to pledge not to use them.
In Canada’s last election, one-fifth of the Twitter followers of the country’s leading political figures were bots. Even Mitt Romney had a bot problem, though it’s not clear whether exaggerating the number of Twitter followers he had was a deliberate strategy or an attempt by outsiders to make him look bad. We know that authoritarian governments in Azerbaijan, Russia, and Venezuela use bots. The governments of Bahrain, Syria and Iran have used bots as part of their counter-insurgency strategies. The Chinese government uses bots to shape public opinion around the world and at home, especially on sensitive topics like the status of Tibet.
Note: This post was originally published on the Political Bots research blog on . It might have been updated since then in its original location. The post gives the views of the author(s), and not necessarily the position of the Oxford Internet Institute.