Showing posts with label bots. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bots. Show all posts

Monday, December 20, 2021

Risk of incorrectly classifying people as bots

I really like two different shows. The Netflix show Black Mirror illustrates various dystopian futures and Reply All is usually an upbeat show that reports on a wide spectrum of topics.

Recently Reply All put out the show State of Panic where the critics of a Florida politician were the recipients of varying degrees of unwanted attention to put it lightly. The large volume of unwanted attention came in the form of undesirable direct messages (DMs) and tweets directed at the critic. The large volume of messages had very focused messaging which could give the impression that the communication was being driven by a small set of individuals with a large number of bot operator managed Twitter accounts. However, after doing some investigation by the good folks at Reply All, it was identified that there were actually a number of very zealous Twitter followers of the politician. The Florida politician, while having some controversial beliefs, had deeply connected with many people online.

Below is the short synopsis the Men on Fire episode of Black Mirror from Wikipedia.

The episode follows Stripe (Malachi Kirby), a soldier who hunts humanoid mutants known as roaches. After a malfunctioning of his MASS, a neural implant, he discovers that these "roaches" are ordinary human beings. In a fateful confrontation with the psychologist Arquette (Michael Kelly), Stripe learns that the MASS alters his perception of reality.

For the soldier, it is much easier to eliminate the "roaches" than to eliminate real people. Once the soldier becomes aware that his actions are impacting people instead of "roaches", he starts to empathize and question his overall mission. In the case for Reply All's State of Panic episode, recipient of the harassment viewed the messages as originating from bot managed accounts since it was difficult to believe that so many real people would have the specific set of beliefs. While harassment is certainly not helpful, we still have to acknowledge that these are real people's voices. When we incorrectly classify public web discourse as bot traffic, we are minimizing the view points of those individuals. The view points may be misguided or factually incorrect, but they still are the perspectives of those people. 

Large numbers of fake accounts that are managed by a small set of individuals can absolutely be a problem. Platforms should take steps to reduce the influence of fake accounts where possible. However, we should also avoid the knee jerk reaction of classifying controversial opinions as originating from "bots". Otherwise, we will not understanding the view points of a large population of individuals.