Every day, Manoush is getting dozens of new followers on Twitter. Sometimes hundreds a day. And every new follower is the same. Generic user name, no photo, blank avatar. And even more suspect, these accounts have no followers, no tweets. In other words: Bots.
Bot armies are taking over Twitter. But they’re not necessarily trying to advance a point of view, according to Phil Howard, a bot researcher. They’re aiming to sow chaos and make dialogue impossible. At the extreme, the goal is to destabilize our very sense of reality.
“Their strategy is to plant multiple conflicting stories that just confuse everybody,” Howard says. “If they can successfully get out four different explanations for some trend, then they’ve confused everybody, and they’re able to own the agenda.”
This week, why someone would sic a bot army on Manoush. And what her bot brigade can teach us about how bots are shaping democracy, from last November to Brexit to the recent French election.
You can check if a Twitter account following you is real or fake, with Bot or Not, an aptly-named tool from the University of Indiana’s Truthy project.