We have heard all about Russian bots and alt-right bots who "interfered" in the 2016 election. The Russian ones get much attention despite being an amateurish operation. We're just starting to find out about the bots secretly commissioned by American billionaire Reid Hoffman while he was accusing Roy Moore of the same. But even now, you rarely hear the accusation of "bot warfare" leveled against the left. Are they guiltless in this respect?
The short answer is no. The more complete answer is that truly everyone was running bots throughout the 2016 election, and all the way up until Twitter had a crackdown mid-2017, but also keep in mind that not all bots are nefarious. Reddit CEO Ellen Pao recently tweeted (in reference to internet traffic metrics): "everything is fake." That succinct answer generally applies to social media as well.
One researcher estimated in March 2017 that upwards of 15% of twitter accounts are bots. This estimate was somewhat validated when Twitter did a mass purge of bot-like accounts in July 2017. During that purge, the @Twitter account lost 7.7M followers, which was 12% of their previous 62M followers. And that purge definitely did not remove all bots from Twitter, as you will soon see. So this is an extremely widespread phenomenon and not limited to a single country or ideology, no matter how the media and certain members of Congress spin it.
Determining what is acceptable or not on our social media platforms is a whole separate and extremely thorny issue. But taking a level headed approach to the problem is critical. That's why I thought the story of the Breaking News Network is so relevant and fascinating. It lies at the intersection of bots-on-social-media, the contentious 2016 election and the recent upheaval of the news industry as a whole.