Social bots as a threat to democracy

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It took forty years of slander to get a few thousand Hillary voters to say, “I dunno, I just don’t like her,” and stay home on election day. How much of that was the last-ditch effort of The Bots from Moscow? How much was a perfectly-timed letter from James Comey? How much was simply gender?

Even if tomorrow’s bots can pass the Turing Test, I doubt they’ll sway many voters.


Is it not abundantly clear at this point that frequently no particular sophistication, much less analysis of massive amounts of behavioral data, is required to “truly converse and persuade”?

I tend to agree. When you win because a few thousand votes were perfectly placed across a couple of states, you needed literally everything to go your way. Basically if it is a reasonable guess that something might have had a 0.1% impact, then it’s reasonable to say Trump needed it to win the election. Trump probably needed those bots to win, but he definitely needed misogyny, years of Republican attacks on Clinton, Comey’s interference, the Access Hollywood tape to come out when it did instead of a couple of weeks later, and on and on and on.

This is the difference between a necessary and a sufficient condition that we should all know about. Bots might have been necessary (if they did sway a few thousands votes) but they were nothing close to sufficient.


You actually have to wonder why - despite Hillary spending a billion dollars (far outspending Trump) that people would vote for a racist, sexist, misogynist boor. To blame it all on Comey, or Russia or the racists is missing the point. Why should it even be this close? Why did millions in the midwest who voted for Obama in 08 and 12 suddenly switch and vote for Trump. Why did all those women vote for Trump?

The left is undergoing a mini culture war right now, because if you put the blame on the rise of far right neofascists, it gives the traditional left parties an out, without needing to do any introspection. Over the past 30 years of the neo-liberal or market revolution of Thatcher and Reagan - the left moved to the centre and embraced free trade and globalism and shifted from its traditional working class base to the centre. The rise of this populist backlash or Trumpism is global in nature and is also on the left with Bernie Sanders, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain etc. and it has everything to do with the class structure of the new global economy. Guy Standing - the rise of the precariat or Mark Blyth (on Global Trumpism) Edward Luce (the retreat of western liberalism) and Thomas Frank discuss much of this in depth.

Unfortunately as long as the Democratic party focuses on Russia’s interfernce rather than actual policy shifts that are needed, I don’t see them changing.


I emphatically disagree.

We already know that conversation can change people’s minds. The one reason people don’t make a habit of this is that it is tedious and emotionally draining work. These are precisely the tasks that computers are best at (historically, anyway).

If we can assume that bots will pass Turing tests, then we can assume that they can be designed to perform these kinds of tasks, chiefly engaging people and attempting to change their minds through the use of probing, open questions.

But that’s not my point, because that isn’t how this tech will be used.

Instead, I see the inverse being far more likely. If conversation can change minds, it can also be used to reinforce and ossify existing belief structures. Imagine if every time you posted on social media, there was a flurry of likes and a few comments saying they agree with you… how likely would you be to change your mind after that?

Bots can be used for change, but I am far more fearful of bots being used for radicalization.


Arguing that segments of the left wing did not vote for Clinton in 2016 due to slander and “I dunnos” is ridiculous. She was a supporter of wall street who had “secret” paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. That alone was enough to alienate many left wing voters.

I know that’s tangential to the topic of bots, but it bugs me to hear valid criticisms repeatedly ignored by I’m-with-her democrats.

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Most Democrats are not “left wing.” Lots of them aren’t even Democrats.


I totally agree with this. Comey provided the buzzer beater that won the election for Trump. The interesting question is how he came to be so close to winning without that. I’m not sure what the Democrats can gain by asking themselves where they went wrong, though. Their leadership is just as ideologically neoliberal as the Republican leadership. They can ask and ask, but they aren’t going to accept the answer.

Would it make you happy if you had truly converse and persuade?

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There’s your answer. “Their leadership…”
They took their Blue Wall for granted, but have over the years shifted to the centre and the “professional class” and cozied up to Wall St. for their funding. Even Obama whom I admired, did nothing to punish Wall St. for gambling with everyone’s savings, in fact he brought in many Wall St. insiders almost immediately.

Sanders would have been the popular, outsider choice, but the leadership chose Hillary because it was her turn. Despite the Socialist label, (which really shouldn’t be a problem, given that the corporates enjoyed socialist bailouts) Bernie is closer to a Truman style Democrat. But he will be 79 in 2020 so maybe too old to run. Elizabeth Warren will be 71 so maybe it doesn’t matter. I don’t see any attempt to change though, and as long as they go on about Russia’s interference, (I mean when has the US not interfered in other nations?) rather than formulating some kind of policy for the new class structure of the global economy that has left so many behind.

It’s really that the bots that write news that will affect the outcome of elections more so than the bots that pretend to be people. It doesn’t take much computing power to create news articles with enough bias that you can churn it out with a skeleton staff of writers and programmers. Such a setup could easily overwhelm any fact checking service no matter how well built it is. And that’s all it would take to change the opinion of a policy or a politician before a vote.

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