Will the Real Bot Please Stand Up?

Written by Lauren Loftus Category: Valley News Issue: August 2018
Group Free

In the America of 2018, no political campaign is safe from being catfished. Such a hoodwink happened in Arizona’s Twittersphere in early June, when an onslaught of fake accounts began publicly proclaiming their support of Governor Doug Ducey’s re-election campaign. Of course, Twitter bots – software programs designed to send out automated posts on the social media site – are old news to anyone who’s been followed by a slew of egg avatars (@phoenixmagazine included). But the 2016 presidential election was a doozy in the Twittersphere, ushering in an era where real people intending to subvert political debate created troll handles. According to The Guardian, in January, Twitter admitted that more than 50,000 Russia-linked accounts – made by real people in St. Petersburg – posted automated material about the U.S. election, including attacks on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Arizona’s Ducey bot army is made up of Twitter handles that use profile photos belonging to actual people – a Celtic folk singer from Ireland, a podcast producer in London. Unlike in Russia, though, the Ducey bots are quite mild in their tweets, simply singing the praises of #TeamDoug! As for Ducey himself, a spokesperson says, “It’s not us.”