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Tinder nightmares: the promise and peril of political bots

Published on
9 Jul 2017
Written by
Robert Gorwa

Project members Robert Gorwa and Doug Guilbeault published an article in Wired about the recent use of Tinder bots to target young swing voters in the lead up to the UK’s General Election.

In the days leading up to the UK’s general election, youths looking for love online encountered a whole new kind of Tinder nightmare. A group of young activists built a Tinder chatbot to co-opt profiles and persuade swing voters to support Labour. The bot accounts sent 30,000-40,000 messages to targeted 18-25 year olds in battleground constituencies like Dudley North, which Labour ended up winning by only 22 votes.


As it stands, there is little to prevent political actors from deploying bots, not just in future elections but also in daily life. If you can believe it, it is not technically illegal to use bots to interfere with political processes. We already know through interviews detailed in our recent study of political bots in the US that leading political consultants view digital campaigning as a ‘wild west’ where anything goes. And our project’s research provides further evidence that bots have become an increasingly common tool used in elections around the world.

Most concerning is the fact that the Tinder Bot team is tacitly suggesting the use of such tactics in other countries, such as the United States, as a way to “take back the White House”. To be sure, there is a temptation on the Left to fight back against allegations of right-wing digital manipulation with equivalent algorithmic force. But whether these tactics are used by the Left or Right, let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that their deceptive nature isn’t fundamentally anti-democratic.

Read the full article in Wired UK.

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