ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE BOT TOILS

At this point it is well understood that "bots" – a term I will use generically here for the sake of simplicity to refer both to non-human social media accounts AND human-run accounts paid to fill up comment sections with certain scripts / talking points / etc – are a major component of the social media landscape. What doesn't appear to be as well understood is the fact that literally everyone is doing this.

It is a favorite insult of anti-leftist types to accuse commenters on social media of being "Russian bots" for advocating anything to the left of, say, Zell Miller. There is no doubt that bots, Russian or otherwise, are part of a pot-stirring agenda to create or sow dissension. There is ample documentation of the large amount of money and effort that has been committed to what is essentially a global-scale Operation Chaos. However, the "Russian bot" accusation betrays a telling lack of understanding about the role "bots" play in social media.

I am always tempted to ask people who raise the Russian Bots point: Do you honestly believe that there isn't a massive social media Bot Farm operation run by the mainstream Democratic Party? And the Republican Party? And far-right interests like white nationalist groups? If so, you are being incredibly, willfully naive and falling for the "Bad things are clearly happening, but bad things are what the other side does" line of thinking that undermines an understanding of the problem as it really is.

You could reasonably counter that with "Well of course the Democratic Party does it, they need to fight back against what others are doing" and that would be reasonable. The merits of that point could be debated. But a lot of comments I see seem ignorant – intentionally or otherwise – of the fact that it is being done. And that's just silly.

The major parties can throw vastly more money and manpower at this than fringey groups. There is a positively *massive* Blue Wave / mainstream Democrats bot farm operation. I know people who work in it. I don't object to its existence on either moral or practical grounds. I'm only stunned that there are people – well-intentioned people fundamentally aligned with its ideology and goals – who seem not to understand that it's out there.

There is a large number of people (to say nothing of true "bot" automated activity) out there being paid hourly to fill Facebook comment sections with talking points, retweet / boost favorable media, share links, spread information about campaign resources (how to volunteer, how to donate money, etc), and all the stuff that is a normal part of online discussions and comments about political topics.

All of this is fine. Everyone is doing it. I see no reason whatsoever that any single group should unilaterally disarm in the delusion that playing by certain rules will be rewarded. That would be counterproductive. What I find confusing is the framing of this as something "everyone else" is doing, but not "we / us." Hint: everyone is doing it, and everyone means everyone. That super enthusiastic person on Facebook with the pink hat and blue waves in her profile has every bit as good a chance of being a bot or a paid promoter as the long-haired DSA Marxist dude harping at her for supporting Andrew Cuomo over Cynthia Nixon has of being a Russian Bot.

There is, of course, also not only the possibility but the likelihood that both are real human beings talking in sincerity about their disagreements. But if your worldview is one that includes extreme suspicion that one of them is a bot or a paid shill, you really need to recognize that it isn't one of them but both of them that deserve your suspicion.

I'll close with Pew research demonstrating that the most bot-supported political material on social media is generic / mainstream / centrist content – CBS News type stuff. Because not only are bots out there trying to promote a political viewpoint, but a vastly larger number are out there with no goal more noble than jacking up ad revenue.

16 thoughts on “ASK NOT FOR WHOM THE BOT TOILS”

  • Oh man, your title had me excited for you to finally reveal that you were/are carrstone and that it’s part of a sophisticated PR strategy that succeeded in getting you in Rolling Stone and The Nation. Boy I miss the comment threads from before Facebook took the bulk of your energy.

  • I think a lot of people might intuitively be coming at it from the point that there's a difference between advertising and "bot"-ting, which is to say that paying people to promote your genuinely-held viewpoint in more places than you can personally do so is fine, but paying people to run disinformation campaigns is not. So accusations to botting are not about money being behind the effort, per se, but that the opinion being offered isn't genuinely held by the person paying to have it promoted.

  • SO…

    when do we finally get a generation that concludes the internet is a waste of time and only losers do it, like reading books?

  • I spend a lot of time going on Facebook and posting liberal/leftist friendly comments. I even go on Facebook pages like Trump, Pence, Fox&Friends, etc. I would LOVE to be paid for doing this. Where can I find a job like that? I'm very serious. If you know people or have links to job sites, I would sign up.

  • Fifteen years ago I was teaching about this stuff at the local community college, and was gotten rid of by a religiously racist, misogynous, homophobic, old testament authoritarian, dominionist no doubt Trump voting sure as hell looks like him bigot with half my education and half my experience but none-the-less in a position to get away with harassing and ultimately forcing me to quit the hostile work-space career I had worked fifteen years and invested tens of thousands of dollars in educational expenses to have …

    The Russians only perfected what Americans were already doing.

  • Knox Harrington says:

    "…the fact that literally everyone is doing this…"
    Is literally everyone doing this? Literally? Everyone? Literally everyone? Because I'm not doing "this."
    Can we stop using the word "literally" to express ourselves emphatically? Using "literally" when there's nothing literal about your rhetorical point is bad enough, but pairing it with a superlative like "everyone" when you mean, "a lot," or "most of us," or "many, many people," is like a beacon that screams "this person is lacking the vocabulary to express himself beyond the level of an eighth-grade girl with self-esteem issues."
    Everything that follows after that is suspect, if not logically, then rhetorically. It's downright magniloquent.

    PS: Yes I am aware that certain dictionaries include among the definitions for the word "literal" an entry that defines it as a non-standard way of expressing emphasis. Those same dictionaries also include, for the word "nonplused," a definition that amounts to the the literal opposite of the actual meaning of the word. But, I expect better of Ed and his readers.

  • Hey, demmocommie (or is it democommie, as in: one who demonstrates communism?),

    Do you really not get that joke? Because your comments suggest the use of that particular word flew right over your head.

    But, hey, don’t worry about it too much. I’m sure you’re good at something in life. Everyone has a talent; you’re just not the go-to for picking up abstruse, punny vernacular. Sophistry is more your forte.

  • Is this site so bereft of tech-savvy readers that no one has pointed out that a bot is not a human? A bot is a *means*, a technique for appearing anonymous and/or appearing multitudinous. It's a tiny viral program running on anyone's computer ( usually a Windows computer ) that can respond to remote commands like "post this nasty comment on ginandtacos.com under the name JohnPatriot."

    Rant over. ( grumble… academics now-a-days! )

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