Bots what are they good for?

The evolution of technology and society has created new challenges to democracy; this has resulted in new focal points for activism, with contemporary issues such as data democracy facing our digital generation. Firstly what is activism, it is defined as “any action or set of actions, be it organized, grassroots or self-initiated, that aims to resolve a problem that diminishes the quality of life of individuals, communities or society” (Popova 2015).

In our digital age, social media is being used as a platform to raise awareness about these issues, as well as being a mode to gather citizens and organise petitions, meetings, strikes and protest. The hyper connectivity of social media, coupled with its ability for facilitating dialogical communication and its uncanny capacity to enable one node (user) to broadcast to many. Has enabled information to be spread to many users in real-time, irrespective of their geographic location, allowing marketers, politicians and businesses to tap into both the masses and niche markets, which previously were out of reach.

Activists also harness the social web to support their work, the most critical issue in digital activism currently being political and institutional transparency, in order to explore this issue we will be looking at Venezuela, focusing on President Nicolas Maduro’s campaign and the use of bots. Most Twitter users underestimate how saturated the network is with bot activity, in fact as much as one-quarter of all tweets made each day are said to be from bot accounts (Howard 2012). Some promoting democracy, some denouncing it.

The recent popularity of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has raised some questions, offline Maduro’s official approval ratings are lower than 30 percent; online however the President is just as popular on Twitter as Pope Francis and is currently the third most re-tweeted public figure (Dreier 2015). A recent investigation by the Associated Press found the government was benefiting from a network of fake accounts, leading to the organization shutting down 6,000 accounts that followed the Venezuelan President (Forelle & Howard & Monroy-Hernández & Savage 2014). Here the government used ’50 cent armies’ (Howard 2011) to generate pro-government messages, created a “new type of online propaganda” (York 2013) and censorship.

Herein lies the dilemma, are bots good or bad, well I guess the answer lies in the nature or usage of the bot that determines would this, what is clear however is the need for a better system to deal with bad bots. As filling the system with more bots that spreading alternative information in an attempt to even the scales will only further clog up the system.



Popova, M 2015, Malcolm Gladwell is #Wrong, accessed 22 September,

Howard, P.N 2012, Let’s Build Pro-Democracy Twitter Bots, accessed 21 September 2015,

York , J.C 2013, No We Should Not Build Pro Democracy Twitter Bots, accessed 22 September 2015,

Sandvig, C 2014, Show-and-Tell: Algorithmic Culture, accessed 21September 2015,

Wolley , S & Hwang, T 2015, Bring on the Bots, accessed 21 September 2015,

Dreier, H 2015, Venezuela Rulling Party Games Twitter for Political Gain, accessed 22 September 2015,

Forelle, M & Howard, P & Monroy-Hernández, A & Savage, S 2014, Political Bots and the Manipulation of Public Opinion in Venezuela, accessed 21 September 2015,


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