Frank Waddell Comments on the Effect Social Media Bots Have on Democracy
Frank Waddell, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Advertising assistant professor, was quoted in “Social Media Bots Are Damaging Our Democracy” published in Engadget on Aug. 15.
The article focuses on the popularity of social media posts and reports that when major news breaks, roughly two-thirds of American adults now find out about it online in real-time. However, the posts can often be rife with false claims, misinformation, and outright conspiracy theories.
According to Waddell, the fact that Americans are so gullible online does not bode well for us.
“One of the big problems for the general public is we mostly believe what we see and what we’re told. And this is kind of amplified on social media where there’s just so much information,” he said.
He adds that social media bots can be dangerous to our democracy.
“Unfortunately, the news is mostly bad, and these bots have been very effective in the past at shaping public opinion. They can just do more tweeting and sharing than the average person and they can do that by quite a large magnitude.”
Waddell references the 2010 election as one of the earliest examples of bots used to influence political discourse.
“Some people call it astroturfing, other people call it Twitter bombs,” he said. “The whole purpose of it, from a political perspective, was to smear other candidates. It’s meant to promote one candidate while discrediting another. Bots may be tweeting in a way that supports how users already feel. And when you have Twitter bots tweeting consistently in line with [the user’s] beliefs, they may or may not realize that they’re being sucked into this false consensus being manufactured.”