Before this week’s topic, and course readings, I had never even heard of a Twitter bot. After doing my research though, I would consider Twitter bots modes of participation to be troublesome. As defined in the article Rise of the Twitter Bots, Twitter bots are fake Twitter accounts run by computer programs (Dubbin, 2013). Besides producing automated tweets, following others accounts, and doing other innocent actions via Twitter, these fake accounts, or Twitter bots are misleading to other real accounts; they essentially serve to alter what is seen as important on the Internet and so-called legitimate. Multitudes of Twitter bots will follow an account, favorite/re-tweet/reply to the same account, and as a result increase numbers in turn increasing its so-called legitimacy.
These bots also often have the ability to steal user’s information, and then also use these accounts to send out more spam to hijack others (Bot or Not, 2011). In the article Who’s That Woman in the Twitter Bot Profile? the senior editor at Fast Company decided to find out whom the real person was behind the profile picture of a Twitter bot that was following him (Feifer, 2012). When tracking down the real person, she had no idea that her photo from her 2009 SUNshine Girls calendar feature was being used without her permission for a Twitter bot account; once photos, and other information are posted online it can be so easily circulated, and misrepresented without consent (Feifer, 2012).
Interestingly enough though, people are willing to buy these bots; companies sell them to clients whom are interested in increasing their numbers (Bot or Not, 2011). Despite these bots not being real people, the more followers (whether fake or not) an account has increases their popularity, and the likelihood of their posts being seen by real people. Sadly, these Twitter bots could be purchased for legitimate causes, or businesses/artists/etc. trying to get a big break, or they could also be used to for hashtag activism which I will explain later on.
Hashtag activism is the use of hashtags over social networking websites and/or applications to bring about change (Dewey, 2014). The more a hashtag is used in postings, the more likely hierarchies (the government) are to notice their abundant use, and make real change through their power. From reading the article #Bringbackourgirls, #Kony2012, and the complete, divisive history of ‘hashtag activism’ it can be seen how hashtag activism has real world consequences (Dewey, 2014). As many people are using social networking websites and/or applications it only makes sense to use these as platforms for activism, giving even ordinary people a voice that they don’t usually have, and making those in power aware that society is informed of real world issues.
What I find frustrating though is how quickly hashtags used in hashtag activism come, and go; one hashtag is easily replaced as another issue of the world arises. I personally have not seen the hashtag #bringbackourgirls as popular as it was once was, and once looking into the status of the missing school girls I found out that the majority are still yet to be found (Cuddihy, 2014). This is a problem I believe exists with hashtag activism; it makes us care for merely a moment about an issue, and then we go about our everyday lives forgetting about it because a hashtag fades. On a side note, Twitter bots could make these hashtags continue to be as popular until the issue is solved, and/or to be a constant reminder to us that the issue still exists. It should not be the responsibility of a Twitter bot to keep us aware though, those who participate in hashtag activism need to simply not forget, and should continue to be active in their efforts if they truly want to make change.