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How Twitter Bots Turn Tweeters Into Activists

By Technology Review

December 23, 2015

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A recent Microsoft study details the use of Twitter bots to engage Twitter users with political activism.

The researchers, including West Virginia University professor Saiph Savage, were inspired to use Twitter bots by Latin American politicians.

In one example, Mexican politicians used Twitter bots to drown out public outrage over the disappearance of a group of students in 2014. The researchers wondered if Twitter bots could be tuned to more pro-social tasks. They created different kinds of bots that tweeted various messages at Twitter users who tweeted phrases such as "corruption" and "impunity." The bots tweeted different types of requests for people to take action and tried to organize volunteers. Forty-five percent of all contact efforts by the bots were met with a response, but direct requests for participation had a reply rate of 81 percent. Twitter users also were more likely to respond if the bots acted more like bots, with the reply rate plummeting if the bots tried to adopt a more human tone.

The research resulted in a system called Botivist, which is being used by partner groups such as PETA, climate change activists, and workers' rights activists in Mexico.

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