The disturbing reality is that computational propaganda is already with us. In the U.S. presidential race, Twitter bots support both Trump and Clinton. Bots of various kinds live on cloud servers and operate 24 hours a day, and account for about 50 percent of all activity on the web. According to the Central American hacker, Sepúlveda, peoples’ opinions tend to be swayed more by views they see as coming spontaneously from real people than by views expressed on television or in newspapers.
What to do?
Oxford Professor Philip Howard, who led the research on Brexit, and Samuel Woolley of the University of Washington suggest that the first step is making it easier for everyone to recognize bots. Some researchers have developed algorithms that aim to distinguish real people from Twitter bots based on their patterns of tweeting behavior, but these are only partially successful. Twitter and other social networks have access to much more specific data, which they could use to identify fake users on the site with visible red flags or equivalent markers. Research shows, encouragingly, that people aren’t influenced nearly as much when they know that an opinion is coming from a software agent rather than a real person.