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Do Bots Count as People Too?

The capacity to reach audiences has shifted from mass media to social media, and audiences have shifted from flesh-and-bone to bots-and-trolls

A screenshot shows Twitter's response screen to high traffic caused by human and non human users, photo: Flickr
11 months ago


A person’s circle of influence and the quality of their content on social media can confer them tremendous popularity. However, when the circle counts its devoted by the K’s (thousands not Kardashians) this capacity translates into power.

Social media is all about numbers. How many followers, how many retweets or reposts, how many likes. This kind of visibility and the capacity to become viral can boost careers, turn people into memes or amplify someone’s mistake. Becoming a trending topic equals an interview on national television.

While some people harvest their fans based on their brains/charm/lifestyle, many others don’t have the same attributes to boast. Luckily for them, marketing specialists were quick to notice and exploit. The main target for this new product has been unsurprisingly and notoriously: politicians.

Armies of fake followers — or bots — can be bought. Prices range from $10 per 1,000 followers to close to $300 for 50,000 followers.

It’s not a high sum of money considering the momentum and visibility a trending topic can give to a certain event, like political campaigns.

A fake follower is very easy to spot: their egg avatars, zero follower-count and lack of tweets single them out. Others do have picture avatars and lots of tweets which are mostly spam. Their lack of content or substance does not stop people from using them for marketing purposes.

During the 2012 presidential election in Mexico, close to 50 percent of mentions regarding the candidates — Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota and Andrés Manuel López Obrador — were carried out by bots. Earlier this year, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate to the government of Oaxaca Alejandro Murat became a trending topic aided by fake accounts.

Donald Trump and his very active Twitter account count a few thousands of fake followers as well.

Long are the days when supporters were lured by promises or prizes, digital clout can now be acquired but it’s harder for it to remain unnoticed. Resources like Followerwonk and FakersApp are increasingly used to challenge the myth of online popularity.

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