2016 US presidential election: Pro-Trump and pro-Clinton bots
As we watch Trump's inauguration today, it's a good opportunity to think back on the election cycle.
As the technology we use becomes increasingly advanced and intelligent, it has the ability to affect the way we think and our views on different issues. The role of fake news played in the recent presidential election has become a sore point for the technology industry, particularly Google, Twitter and Facebook.
Google has said that it would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service. Facebook has also said that it will not display ads on its site that show misleading content. However, this does not change the fact that pro-Trump and pro-Clinton chat-bots have already affected voter’s views throughout this election, and these chat-bots have essentially determined the outcome of the election.
Many of you are probably wondering what chat-bots are. They are essentially basic software with a bit of artificial intelligence and rudimentary communication skills that send messages on social media platforms with the purpose of ranting, confusing people about facts, or simply muddying discussions. This subsequently causes chaos and confusion among citizens who do not know what to believe in.
These bots have had huge influences on voters' decisions during this election. A report published 2 days after Trump’s success by researchers at Oxford University stated that an automated army of pro-Trump chat-bots overwhelmed similar programs supporting Clinton five to one in the days leading up to the presidential election. The more frightening part of this is that the chat-bots are almost entirely anonymous. This means that leaders from around the world, especially enemies of the United States, could influence this process that is fundamentally meant to give the public a fair chance to choose their leaders, defeating the purpose and value of democracy.
Furthermore, there is evidence to show that these chat-bots were part of an organized effort. By the third debate, Trump bots were colonizing Clinton hash-tags on twitter with the intention of getting into online conversations amongst Clinton supporters in order to influence their views and decisions, highlighting the power of bots.
So what can we do about this? How can we ensure that we make informed decisions without being influenced by false media and propaganda?
As the next generation of voters, I urge all of you to question the provenance and reliability of what you read, and ensure that you are not just relying on the information that comes up on your Facebook or Twitter feeds. It is also important to read information published by supporters of both sides, so you can consider different perspectives. It is chilling to think that once you have been influenced by a pro-Clinton or pro-Trump bot, you have essentially become a puppet of its owner.
Trinity Donohugh is currently attending High School in the UK and is one of the Founders of Discuss for Change. She is passionate about politics, international affairs and Computer science. She is the founder & CEO of the student led non-profit Girlsforcs (www.girlsforcs.org). She is also the co-founder of the social enterprise Khonaa (www.khonaa.com). She is also an alumni of the Yale Young Global Scholars Program 2016.