I’m old enough to remember watching dirt being invented. But that doesn’t mean that every now and then I don’t get surprised – like when I got caught in the spin cycle of the political bot machine.
Over the years I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on the response rate my posts will get on social media. So I was pleasantly surprised when one of my Twitter posts hit its expected two day total in a couple of hours. When I checked back on my page later in the day, my traffic count was over six figures and climbing like kudzu and knotweed. No way was I going to scan the retweets and likes for people I might want to follow.
I did, however, begin reading comments my post had triggered. At first it seemed like the usual assortment of thoughtful notes, polite cheers and off-topic trolls. As my total topped a quarter million in less than 24 hours I noticed two things – the negative ranters and polite cheers were multiplying faster than rabbits in a carrot patch, all reacting to each other. A quick check showed that most of them had YUGE numbers of tweets and only a handful of followers. But they sure generated a lot of traffic “talking” to each other. [Is there a verb to describe communication between bots?] The other thing I noticed, as my impressions approached 300,000, was that all these “impressions” yielded me just three new followers.
The good news? Buried in the clutter was legitimate traffic from sources I’ve been cultivating. The bad news? Aside from a few random people I culled from the tweetstorm, they were lost to me.
Bots are tools for manipulating media. Properly programmed, they can make their topic du jour trend well enough to gain coverage in both the traditional and electronic media. When I used my startup Shakespeare’s Tao account to insert two cents into the Trump/Caesar controversy I unknowingly used the right keywords to become ammunition in the culture war. Damn, at that point my page had been up for just a couple of weeks and had only a few dozen followers.
While I’m pretty sure that quite a few of the human commenters only knew of Caesar as a salad, I have to admit they manipulated me for a while.
First they triggered my emotions. Wow, this feels good; followed by WTF? [“Look what they’ve done to my song…”] Then my logic kicked in – a left-brain response to what was happening to my post. While the incident triggered my curiosity about why my piece was picked up and how it was being used, there’s no way I’ll take the time to analyze the bot population to see which direction I was being fired in.
So here’s what I’ve learned about sorting the electronic bots and programmable people from people with brain cells. Digital followers give us numbers; analog ones [real people] give us thought. Both give us something to think about. While it’s possible to sort bots from people, there’s no foolproof system. Even businesses that charge for this service admit their shortcomings. If you’re interested in the phenomenon, you might want to track down some of the stories on Trump’s millions of fake followers. This one from Newsweek is just one of many you can find with a quick search. [http://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-twitter-followers-fake-617873]
Despite what we were taught in grade school, democracy has always been dominated by those who shout loudest and have the money to shout longer than anyone else. Electronic media is just a more powerful megaphone. The botterverse is not a betterverse. It’s a tool that manipulates public opinion in favour of those who shout the loudest and longest. It further exacerbates divisions in our information rich/knowledge poor society. If your set of facts or your opinion of any fact set isn’t trending, you’re invisible. Worse than invisible, you don’t have any voice at all.
And if you think this megaphone only applies to the political arena, you’re as mistaken as I was. Reading Twitter bios sometimes makes me think there are more Amazon best-selling books than there are books in print. Musicians who broke away from the crippling chains of major record labels now find themselves competing with mass-marketed artists in the music streaming universe.
But has anything – or anybody – really changed in this world? Gutenberg revolutionized communications and created unemployment among calligraphers and copyists over 500 years ago. Joni Mitchell wrote Playing Real Good for Free nearly fifty years ago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bSgoNNQ0m8
In a world of bigger is better and more is merrier is there any place left for quality instead of quantity?
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one…
PS – If you’d like to see the piece that started the fuss, you’ll find it on my Shakespeare’s Tao pages on both Twitter and Facebook, where you can feel free to follow, like and comment. If you’d like to see a lot more, you can go to my website https://tao-not-dow.org/ and click on the Shakespeare tab in the galleries. There will always be more images here than on social media. Many thanks.