Since 2012, the Programme on Democracy & Technology (previously known as ComProp) has been investigating the use of algorithms, automation, and computational propaganda in public life. Political bots are manipulating public opinion over major social networking applications. This project enables a new team of social and information scientists to investigate the impact of automated scripts, commonly called bots, on social media. We study both the bot scripts and the people making such bots, and then work with computer scientists to improve the ways we catch and stop such bots. Experience suggests that political bots are most likely to appear during an international crisis, and are usually designed to promote the interests of a government in trouble. Political actors have used bots to manipulate conversations, demobilize opposition, and generate false support on popular sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Sina Weibo.
First, we are conducting international fieldwork with the political consultants and computer experts who are commissioned to make bots. Second, we are building an original database of political incidents involving bots. Finally, we are using this knowledge to make better tools for detecting political bots when they appear. We engage in “real-time” social and information science, actively disseminating our findings to journalists, industry, and foreign policy experts. By developing a network of experts in political bot detection and compiling original data sets, our project helps researchers develop a better understanding of how bots are manipulating social networks while advancing the conversation in the social sciences, computer sciences, and industry about the size of the problem and possible solutions.
You are welcome to explore this website for our latest research findings, current activities, and impact.