Grants / Research

NSF EAGER award to study how people use bots to manipulate people

Political bots are manipulating public opinion over major social networking applications like Facebook and Twitter. This EAGER award enables a new team of social and information scientists to investigate the impact of automated scripts—commonly called bots—on social media. We will study both the bot scripts and the people making such bots, and then work with computer scientists to improve the way we catch and stop such bots. Experience suggests that political bots are most likely to appear during an international crisis, and are usually designed to promote the interests of a government in trouble. Political actors have used bots to manipulate conversations, demobilize opposition, and generate false support on popular sites like Twitter, Sina Weibo, and Facebook. The first stage of our research is international fieldwork with the political consultants and computer experts who are commissioned to make bots. Second, we are building an original database of political incidents involving bots. Finally, we are using this knowledge to make better tools for detecting political bots when they appear. We are doing “real-time” social and information science, and actively disseminating our findings to journalists, industry, and foreign policy experts. By developing an a network of experts in political bot detection and an original data set we will not only have a better understanding of how bots are manipulating social networks. We are advancing the conversation in the social sciences, computer sciences, and industry about the size of the problem and the possible solutions.

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