Political Bots with Samuel Woolley

Bots on the internet can be malicious, helpful, and everything in between. A bot that responds to all of your tweets might call you a socialist–that is malicious. Google crawls the web to index Google search. That is helpful. Social media marketing bots schedule 200 Twitter posts to go out throughout the day. That is either a little annoying or a little helpful depending on who you are.  

Bots are being used to amplify political viewpoints. An amplified viewpoint can serve as a gravity well for like-minded individuals, and help a sparsely supported political cause find its footing. Sometimes that amplified viewpoint is completely fictional or unfalsifiable. Real people believe that Hillary Clinton is a lizard alien because they have seen that story shared by enough Twitter bots.

So-called “fake news” is a topic that has been discussed on so many other podcasts. What is not reported is the connection between link bait and advertising fraud. When a botnet is able to make an article go viral, thousands of people organically click on the link to that article. That organic traffic is used to launder fake clicks.

These bots that are spreading “fake news” might be controlled by conspiratorial Russians. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Anyone who wants to make money in online advertising fraud is incentivized to make salacious media–whether it is real or fake.

Samuel Woolley is the director of research at Political Bots. He works with Jigsaw, a division of Alphabet that seeks to make the Internet safer. In today’s episode, we talk about political bots, advertising fraud, and the connection between the two.

Software Engineering Daily is having our third Meetup, Wednesday May 3rd at Galvanize in San Francisco. The theme of this Meetup is Fraud and Risk in Software. We will have great food, engaging speakers, and a friendly, intellectual atmosphere. To find out more, go to softwareengineeringdaily.com/meetup.


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