01 November 2017

Bot Puppets

In the 2016 election, bots were busily posting and reposting weird memes to people who confused cynicism with sophistication, people who found credible claims like, "the Pope endorses Trump!" and "Clinton has used the Clinton Foundation to make Millions!" Millions of bots on Facebook and Twitter were busily forwarding fake news to gullible users who still didn't understand that a brand new site labeled "TrumpWillMakeAGreatPresident.com" or "MelaniaWillBeAMoreBeautifulFirstLadyThanBill.com"  is less likely to be offering objective news than the New York Times. Given they had already believed that the New York Times and other "mainstream media" sites were not to be believed, they actually found this put up overnight sites more credible than the mainstream media that still practiced journalism according to standards that predated the internet.

These bots were particularly busy swaying what the social media algorithms had identified as "soft Clinton" supporters. While they couldn't hope to win many black voters in Philadelphia over to Trump, they could feed rumors to voters likely to vote Clinton and thus convince them there wasn't enough difference between Clinton and Trump to justify voting. Just getting Clinton voters to stay home was enough to tip the election in the three states that gave Trump the national victory while only giving him the edge of 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It was as if someone had concluded that a car salesman and a car thief were no different but it worked.

My elderly mother was having trouble with her computer during the election. After a lot of finagling I got her back online and signed into her Facebook account. This was either late October or early November.  I was aghast at the sheer volume of "news" articles posted to her Facebook feed. Obviously bogus news sites that looked credible to her were decrying Michelle Obama's lack of fashion sense and lauding Melania, showing Trump's promise to restore America or Hillary in an angry face. I honestly scrolled through about 50 of these posts while seeing only a couple of personal posts from her friends or family. And each post seemed to be from yet another fabricated site. It was absurd.

I don't know how many people will ever admit they were swayed by bots. It's not flattering to be duped by computer code. (Although I imagine that by 2017 we all have been at least once.)

My term for the folks who were swayed by bots? Either to believe that Trump somehow cared for them or that Hillary was just as bad? Bot puppets.

If you are a regular reader of this blog I expect you to incorporate the term into your daily vocabulary. Here is how you use it.

"Oh don't be just a bot puppet Justin. You've got to be smarter than three lines of code. Your argument doesn't even make sense."

"Did you just forward that argument from a bot? What are you, a bot puppet now? Just doing whatever the computers tell you? Think for yourself Justin."

"Well, Shelley is such a bot puppet that she doesn't know the difference between nytimes.com and notyourtime.com. Seriously, that woman will forward anything from anywhere as long as it blames Bill Clinton for whatever she's upset about today."

The goal is to make it shameful to rely on memes to do your thinking, to make bot puppet have all the stigma of racist.

Wait. That might not be enough to sway some of Trump's base that it's a bad thing to be a bot puppet.

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