Much has been made lately of Twitter bots and their ability to manipulate and distort conversations, including Elon Musk abandoning his plans to acquire the social media service, and accusations that Hollywood director Zack Snyder orchestrated a campaign to make his Justice League film seem more popular.
On a social platform such as Twitter — which can have an outsized influence on political opinion and cultural discourse — a few dozen extra likes or retweets, or a network of accounts dedicated to pushing an agenda, can mean the difference between an issue going largely unnoticed and becoming a trending topic. The incentive for manipulators is clear, so how bad is the problem really?
Director Zack Snyder has been linked to a bot-driven campaign that led to the re-release of Justice League.Credit:AP
Bots often appear as normal Twitter accounts, but rather than being controlled by a person, they’re controlled partly or wholly by software. They can be programmed in patterns as simple as following certain accounts or tweeting out automated messages, or as complex as seeking out specific conversations to boost or disrupt.
These inauthentic accounts have been manipulating Twitter since the moment the platform had cultural cachet, with dodgy operators selling likes and follows to people looking to inflate their apparent importance. Twitter and platforms like it have largely trained us to recognise that more followers means more influence, and that a statement with more likes is more widely supported, which makes things easy to fudge.