Dooley highlights need to address the scourge of Twitter bots

Published on: 24 March 2018

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Communications, Climate Action & Environment Timmy Dooley has called on social media companies to take a more proactive role in guarding against the misuse of their platforms.

His call comes in the wake of further revelations regarding the role of social media in political discourse and elections.

In particular, Deputy Dooley has highlighted the scourge of so-called “Twitterbots”, which are essentially computer programmes used to generate tens or hundreds of fake Twitter accounts, which are then used to promote certain content on the platform.

“Twitterbots have become an extremely disturbing phenomenon – a recent study from the University of Southern California and Indiana University suggesting that there may be up to 48 million of these accounts active on Twitter. That’s about 15% of the overall number of Twitter users worldwide, so there is no way that Twitter is unaware of this issue”, said Deputy Dooley.

“A person or group can quite easily run a computer programme that creates hundreds of Twitter accounts, and then use these Twitter accounts to make misleading claims. For all intents and purposes, these tweets look like they are coming from scores of real people, when they are in fact all coming from the same source. Because of the way that Twitter algorithms work, this can quite quickly give prominence to a news story that is entirely made-up, taking attention away from the real news and misleading the public about the actual issues.

“In other instances, multiple bots are deployed to attack a public figure or political representative and to tweet abusive comments at them. In the midst of important conversations about the extremely dangerous nature of online bullying and harassment, this is yet another dark side of these bots.

“While I appreciate the benefits of social media, many global social media companies, and indeed our own government, have been far too complacent about its pitfalls and dangers. Twitter knows that this is a major problem on its platform, so why is the company not taking the necessary steps to address it?

“It is up to social media companies, Twitter included, to devote serious resources to identify misuse of their platforms and build software and processes to weed those practices out. While there is an important role for government to play, it must have the co-operation of companies in addressing the issue. I am calling upon Twitter to set out it plan to address this wide-spread problem on its platform”.

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