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Are we running the news or is the news running us?

Fake news has now become a phenomenon that is well written about, however we have only touched the surface as twitter bots are on the rise.

In a recent BBC article it emerged that there are not only over 350,000 bots, but networks of them: NETWORKS, so not just individual spammers or trolls but machines creating avenues in which fake news can spread.

The news of 4 men in a little known Macedonia town generating fake US election stories and making thousands from it, shows the power, speed and now agility of technology. In an arena where reputation, protest and robust debate is key, we are seeing the advent of artificial movements. As the everyday citizen has more news in his hand literally, he is now not only a consumer but has to become an investigator.

With Twitter bots effectively creating artificial movements, resulting in trending topics that are near enough to the truth to be believable, one does not only need to be a discerning reader but a bona fide fact checker. The risk to this is that people believe that their society and political structures are in a state which they are not. Perception becomes reality, and by being drawn into the fact checking, attention is drawn to the very falsehood itself.

This bot-news can render completely useless the pollsters and focus groups that got Brexit and Trump so wrong. Why consult a small group of people who cannot and do not reflect the reach of my Twitter feed? Why ask for a select group of opinions when people simply take what they read at face value?

The key here is time: people are lacking in it and robots have it at their disposal. Individuals cannot keep up with the pace of information sharing that robots can.

With this in mind, this artificial activity can disrupt the political process, and the democratic right to protest, as demonstrated by recent cases in activism within Mexico.  By flooding the feeds and conversations with alternate hash tags and other content, a tool that can mobilize affirmative action against oppressive regimes is instantly dismantled.

The power of social media is seen in bans imposed by China, and most recently Turkey in attempts to prevent the spread of anti-Government sentiment. Those regimes are aware that the vast majority of people now receive their news online; and crucially is an inexpensive way of mobilizing activist groups. Traditional media, political press releases and broad sheet articles are no longer the bastion of news that can be believed. Traditional media is not only fighting fake news but also fake movements and opinions generated by an automated machine with no down time.

Although it would be extremely naïve to assume no falsehood was ever published before the advent of social media; but with bots now used as the originators and curators of news mostly for political influence the question remains how can we keep up?

Image courtesy of pixabay

Catherine Wanjiku

Policy Officer at CIPR Twitter: @CWanjiku1

Posted in Digital and Tech, Editor's Picks, Public Relations, Social Media

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