Ian Urbina in The New York Times: “FROM the earliest days of the Internet, robotic programs, or bots, have been trying to pass themselves off as human. Chatbots greet users when they enter an online chat room, for example, or kick them out when they get obnoxious….
Now come socialbots. These automated charlatans are programmed to tweet and retweet. They have quirks, life histories and the gift of gab. Many of them have built-in databases of current events, so they can piece together phrases that seem relevant to their target audience. They have sleep-wake cycles so their fakery is more convincing, making them less prone to repetitive patterns that flag them as mere programs. Some have even been souped up by so-called persona management software, which makes them seem more real by adding matching Facebook, Reddit or Foursquare accounts, giving them an online footprint over time as they amass friends and like-minded followers.
Researchers say this new breed of bots is being designed not just with greater sophistication but also with grander goals: to sway elections, to influence the stock market, to attack governments, even to flirt with people and one another.
…Socialbots are tapping into an ever-expanding universe of social media. Last year, the number of Twitter accounts topped 500 million. Some researchers estimate that only 35 percent of the average Twitter user’s followers are real people. In fact, more than half of Internet traffic already comes from nonhuman sources like bots or other types of algorithms. Within two years, about 10 percent of the activity occurring on social online networks will be masquerading bots, according to technology researchers….
Much of the social media remains unregulated by campaign finance and transparency laws. So far, the Federal Election Commission has been reluctant to venture into this realm.
But the bots are likely to venture into ours, said Tim Hwang, chief scientist at the Pacific Social Architecting Corporation, which creates bots and technologies that can shape social behavior. “Our vision is that in the near future automatons will eventually be able to rally crowds, open up bank accounts, write letters,” he said, “all through human surrogates.”