Human Political Bots and the Internet

A newcomer to the rapidly evolving glossary of online politics: Bot, n . : A person who relentlessly promotes a candidate or cause online, often through comments on blogs, contributions to user-generated sites, and votes in online polls, with such frequency that the behavior appears automated.

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A newcomer to the rapidly evolving glossary of online politics:

Bot, n . : A person who relentlessly promotes a candidate or cause online, often through comments on blogs, contributions to user-generated sites, and votes in online polls, with such frequency that the behavior appears automated.

Background: In online parlance, "bot," a truncation of "robot," originally referred to a program that automatically navigates the Internet, often collecting information for search engines. More insidious bots attempt to mimic human behavior by distributing material, sending spam, or even playing online poker.

In a strange reversal, the term is now applied, usually as a pejorative, to humans mimicking software mimicking humans. The profusion of social media sites, which rely on users to generate and organize content, has provided a platform for determined groups of users to flood the Internet with material for their cause. Because of the overwhelming amount of competing material, this strategy is successful only if a large number of users produce and rank material with high regularity.

Usage: The term is frequently used to denigrate supporters of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, a libertarian-minded Texas representative with a loyal online following. Paul-related material can consistently be found dominating sites like Digg.com, where users vote on their favorite posts. Some have accused Paul's supporters of actually using automated bots to promote material, but no hard evidence has been found on any large scale.

Example: "And kudos to the rest of you Ron Paul bots for showing how very very lame even the awesome Internet can become when people try to turn discussion forums into infomercials for crazy politicians." Comment by "barenjager," Colbert Nation blog, June 13, 2007.

—Chris Wilson