Trying to measure how much influence Twitter bots have on individuals is very difficult, according to a new report by the CBC.
As the federal election nears, Twitter is getting flooded with lots of fake accounts, though these bots have always existed. Bots are automated accounts that are run by software instead of real humans; they automatically tweet, retweet, and follow accounts.
According to the CBC report, researchers say that this concern is “overblown” and the issue is “part of a bigger system aimed at manipulating opinion online.”
Fenwick McKelvey, an assistant professor who researches social media at Concordia University in Montreal, said that there was too much attention being placed on bots and that they’re “at best, a small part of” the issues around social media.
It’s worth adding that there are some bots that impersonate people, but the concern that people have around them is overblown, as noted by John Gray, the CEO of Mentionmapp Analytics, a company that collects data on social media.
He did add that it’s difficult to measure the influence that bots have as well as how they impact humans.
“I don’t believe we can actually talk about impact,” he told the CBC. “We don’t have the research. We don’t have the data, and I don’t even know if we have the right questions to ask about the impact.”
An example of bots trending was in July when the hashtag #TrudeauMustGo rocketed to the top of Twitters’ trending list in Canada. The National Observer reported that a closer look revealed accounts tweeting were bots; they were tweeting at ‘non-human rates’ causing the hashtag to make it to the trending list.
McKelvey told the CBC that it’s hard to measure the influence of these bots as Twitter doesn’t publicly say how a trending topic is created.