Trends – Twitter bots can change your mind for you

The ‘tweets’ that spur voters and trigger rebellions are often written by machines.

The ‘tweets’ that spur voters and trigger rebellions are often written by machines.

According to a report by the Potomac Institute Cyber Center, in recent years they have seen action in Syria, in an attempt to silence Bashar al-Assad’s enemies; in China, to scuttle protests in favour of the liberation of Tibet, and in Russia, to thwart mounting criticism of President Vladimir Putin. We’re talking about bots, ‘robot’ computer programs that by generating automatic comments and conversations flood Twitter with messages.

“They’re used to gain popularity and influence public opinion, by assigning issues or personalities a fictitious approval rating”, explains Corey Nachreiner of WatchGuard, an American computer security giant. They operate by submerging protest messages beneath a sea of digital waste and threatening anyone who publishes troublesome comments.

Summer 2009: Ahmadinejad wins the elections in Iran and drowns the opposition’s protests against ballot rigging in a sea of blood. The world finds out mainly thanks to Twitter, the social network that enables users to share very short messages (up to 140 characters) eluding the regime’s censorship mechanisms.

This was the prologue to the so-called Arab Spring, which would demonstrate the key role played by social networks in the organisation, communication and coordination of street protests – as well as helping to obtain international backing for the protests, as has been underlined by a study published by the Italian International Policy Observatory.

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