The fact that Russian-linked bots penetrated social media to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election has been well documented and the details of the deception are still trickling out.
In fact, on Oct. 17 Twitter disclosed that foreign interference dating back to 2016 involved 4,611 accounts — most affiliated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm.
On Oct. 22, the Wall Street Journal reported that Russian bots helped inflame the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
Two years after bots were blamed for helping sway the 2016 Brexit vote in Britain, Twitter bots supporting the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats increased significantly this spring and summer in the leadup to that country’s elections.
First, awareness must be the first step in solving any problem, and cognizance of bot meddling has soared in the last two years amid all the disturbing headlines.
About two-thirds of Americans have heard of social media bots, and the vast majority of those people are worried bots are being used maliciously, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 4,500 U.S. adults conducted this summer.
When California Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 28 signed legislation making it illegal as of July 1, 2019 to use bots – to try to influence voter opinion or for any other purpose — without divulging the source’s artificial nature, it followed anti-ticketing-bot laws nationally and in New York State as the first bot-fighting statutes in the United States.
The measure is difficult to enforce because it’s often very hard to identify who is behind a bot network, the law’s penalties aren’t clear, and an individual state is inherently limited it what it can do to attack a national and global issue.
Third, the social media platforms — which have faced congressional scrutiny over their failure to address bot activity in 2016 – have become more aggressive in pinpointing and eliminating bad bots.
While it can be argued that Twitter and Facebook should have done more sooner to differentiate the human from the non-human fakes in its user rolls, it bears remembering that bots are a newly acknowledged cybersecurity challenge.
Security capabilities that too often are siloed within networks will integrate more and more into holistic platforms better able to detect and ward off bot threats.
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