The internet opened a wardrobe to a Narnia of self-expression. With it, political activism found a way to be louder and more organized than ever. But the same technology that further democratized discourse is threatening to shut it down by allowing too many voices into the discussion. If it sounds like I'm saying a lot of people don't deserve to have a voice, I am. But not I'm talking about real people.
Bots are programs designed to automate simple computational tasks, like sending out spam emails. They can also be used to make it seem like there's a real person on the other end of an online interaction. You probably said a ton of racist stuff to one on a chatbot site to see if its reactions were convincingly human. They never were, because chatbots can't roundhouse kick you in the face.
But you'll suffer that consequences like a true hero, all in the name of being "edgy."
Bots were used in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election by the right and the left to flood social media with fake news to amplify their side's message. Russia's Twitter bots went turbo and spit out thousands of links to fake news stories about Hilary Clinton every day.
In a time when our voices need to be heard more than ever, militant chatbot political spammers think they're winning the messaging war by turning every social media site into a college campus corkboard drowning in a four-inch layer of event flyers. When everyone hangs a flyer promoting their shitty band's show, the board turns into a cluttered mound of indecipherable, self-defeating garbage. Instead of offering a rational alternative opinion, the creators end up making people clutch their ears and scream like Clark Kent before he learns to control his supersonic hearing.
"WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE STILL SAYING 'GIT-R-DONE'?!"
They forget it needs to feel like the message wasn't written by Outrage-a-Tron 5000. Sounds easy enough. Anyone can write a heartfelt plea. And yet they still fuck it up. I don't know many humans who spam the exact same message 58,000 times in one comment thread, like an anti-net-neutrality bot recently did on the FCC's website in a pathetic attempt to balance out the thousands of real humans posting their pro-net-neutrality comments. In a twist that makes it seem like they were actively attempting to devalue their own message, the bot's creator used stolen user data to submit each comment. Call me prejudiced, but I just don't think identity thieves are great role models. If you tell me you're Sally from Wisconsin, but I find out you're actually Chet from who-knows-where because your VPN is bouncing your IP address from Tallahassee to Fayetteville to the moon, I will not be inclined to trust your political philosophy, no matter how many Che Guevara shirts / Ayn Rand books you undoubtedly own.
This is what happens when activism goes so far and gets so loud that simply being heard becomes a cutthroat competition wherein abiding by a moral code means you lost before the game even started. Things can feel helpless when an opinion can be artificially inflated to seem like its being driven by a vast army of angry villagers. Even worse, it can be abused by amoral idiots for personal gain, like how Trump cited spammed online polls to claim victory after debates. But it's not all bleak. They can't fake your physical presence at a protest, a sit-in, or a march. Not yet, at least. But if you're ever watching live footage of a protest and you see you in the crowd throwing an SUV through a storefront window, know that the makers of militant bots have gained control of cloning and/or android technology.
Then you can panic.
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