Connecting the bots

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A trending story on Twitter could mean thousands of people care about an issue—or that computers are doing their jobs.

Researchers at UGA found that Twitter “bots” can be the driving forces behind dialogue in social movements. The study was published in Academy of Management Discoveries.

“When a topic trends on Twitter, chances are a lot of central or very well-connected accounts are tweeting about it and perhaps shaping how others react. We found that some of these central accounts are actually bots,” said Carolina Salge, a Ph.D. student at the Terry College of Business and co-author of the research.

Bots (short for robots) are simple computer programs designed to carry out automated tasks—non-human actors that often try to go undetected. They can occupy an ethical gray area, said Elena Karahanna, co-author and Rast Professor of Business.

“They may be used to spread fake news, but they may also be used to spread facts,” she said. “And I think that’s where the ethical line is. If they are spreading the truth, it’s not unethical.”

This brief appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Research Magazine. The original press release is available at http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/bots-research-social-media/.