We’d all like to believe that our online interactions are genuine. After all, that’s what social media is all about. Unfortunately, a lack of face-to-face interactions opens the door for bad actors, like Trolls and Bots (entities with nefarious motives) to skew our view of reality.
In the early days, social media was mostly used to interact with your real-world friends. Heck, I remember being taught to never talk to strangers on the internet.
Now, we increasingly use social media as a way to see what is going on in the world, examine other points of view, and voice our opinions. Interacting with “strangers” is commonplace and beneficial. You can talk to people and gain exposure to ideas you wouldn’t normally consider. Sure, some people are so staunch in their beliefs that the conversations can get toxic, but at the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
Bad Actors- Trolls and Bots
Their sole purpose is to cause disruption, to skew your view of reality, cause emotional reactions, get you to question your own beliefs, and urge you to respond. As I’m sure you know, the best thing to do is NOT respond. Don’t give these losers the time of day.
But you can’t protect yourself from Trolls and Bots if you don’t know how to identify them.
How to Identify a Troll:
Scholarly, Pulitzer prize-winning, resource (/s ), Urban Dictionary, defines a Trolling as:
“the deliberate act, (by a Troll – noun or adjective), of making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums with the intent to provoke an emotional knee jerk reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument.”
Intention matters: Identifying a Troll can be harder than identifying a Bot because you have to assume what someone’s intentions are. Is the person just trying to get a rise out of you? Or are they genuinely acting in good faith, and are just going about it wrong?
- Usually, trolls use harsh rhetoric and are not open to civil conversation.
- When you check their other interactions, they are mostly toxic.
- Not all trolls are anonymous, but some are.
- Overall, when looking at the big picture (language used and other activity), it is pretty easy to see when someone is acting in bad faith.
REMEMBER: You don’t have to interact. It is hard to bite your tongue sometimes, especially when someone is attacking you, but remember that these strangers DON’T MATTER.
How to Identify a BOT:
(Most) Social Media sites try their hardest to shut down Bots. In 2018, Twitter shut down 2 million of them. Regardless of what platforms do, bad actors will always find a way.
MIT Technology Review lists five ways to identify a bot:
- User profile
The most common way to tell if an account is fake is to check out the profile. The most rudimentary bots lack a photo, a link, or any bio. More sophisticated ones might use a photo stolen from the web, or an automatically generated account name.
- Tweet syntax
Using human language is still incredibly hard for machines. A bot’s tweets may reveal its algorithmic logic: they may be formulaic or repetitive, or use responses common in chatbot programs. Missing an obvious joke and rapidly changing the subject are other telltale traits (unfortunately, they are also quite common among human Twitter users).
- Tweet semantics
Bots are usually created with a particular end in mind, so they may be overly obsessed with a particular topic, perhaps reposting the same link again and again or tweeting about little else.
- Temporal behavior
Looking at tweets over time can also be revealing. If an account tweets at an impossible rate, at unlikely times, or even too regularly, that can be a good sign that it’s fake. Researchers also found that fake accounts often betray an inconsistent attitude toward topics over time.
- Network features
Network dynamics aren’t visible to most users, but they can reveal a lot about an account. Bots may follow only a few accounts or be followed by many other bots. The tone of a bot’s tweets may also be incongruous with those of its connections, suggesting a lack of any real social interaction.
Resources to identify BOTS
Botometer: An automated system that scores a Twitter account and helps determine if it’s a bot or not.
Bot Sentinel: A handy dashboard that tracks, in aggregate, what disinformation bots are tweeting.
Hoaxy: Track the spread of online disinformation.
Tips from a Long-Time Media Literacy Expert:
Over the summer, we attended the NAMLE conference and were lucky enough to hear two talks by Professor Julie Nielsen Smith. She is a self-described “Media Literacy Evangelist”–who is currently teaching Media Literacy in Uzbekistan!
During one of her presentations, she detailed how she has become a target for trolls and bots on Instagram. In this hilarious blogpost, she describes the steps she goes through to try to verify if the DM’s she gets, from people like the “USA ARMY’s” very own Austin Jake, are legitimate. After all, who doesn’t “love to gym”?
Fun fact: In Julie’s experience, a lot of bots present themselves as being in the Military.
Julie provided Not So Fast with some other resources she recommends:
Tips from You: