Bots, paid trolls are 'purveyors of artificial ignorance'

MANILA, Philippines – Transparency and accountability advocates warned against the increasing number of bots and paid trolls online, calling their presence the downside of evolving technology today.  

Transparency and Accountability Network’s Vince Lazatin called bots and paid trolls as “purveyors of artificial ignorance” during the Technology and Public Debate panel at the #2030 Social Good Summit on Saturday, September 24.  

“They are purveyors of artificial ignorance and I think this is what we’re seeing a lot on the Internet, especially on social media. And because of that, it has swayed public opinion,” said Lazatin. (READ: When trolls and propagandists occupy the Internet

“And what I’ve noticed when we talk about public debate, the Internet is not so much as public debate anymore as it is a screaming match. Whoever screams the loudest gets the most attention. And I think this is the sad thing about the Internet and social media today,” he added. 

According to Lazatin, some influential personalities like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump may even be considered as a troll.

“People like Donald Trump are sort of the world’s biggest troll because they put forth half-truths, sometimes outright lies, and people eat that up. Then it ripples out into the Internet galaxy in exponential rates. And what started out as a lie or half-truth becomes the truth when it reaches the general public,” said Lazatin. 

Veteran journalist Vergel Santos of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility acknowledged the positive effects of technology, as it allows for better transparency and accountability in society. 

But for him, the Internet these days is being used as a “brutal, vulgar, indiscriminate” weapon.  

“Technology has no morals. Technology has no values. Technology is too neutral for us to be relying on it alone,” he said.

Defense vs bots, trolls

Thinking Machines founder Stephanie Sy said one way to fight back is to identify when an account is a bot, but she she said this is difficult. (WATCH: How to deal with online trolls

“It’s actually like a real war between two types of technologists. Every time someone builds a better bot detection, someone else builds a better bot,” she said. 

Sy said, however, that studying the patterns of how bots post can help better identify ways to stop them. She added that bots are normally not connected to accounts of real human beings. 

“If someone is just talking about one topic, has no friends, no followers, he only talks about one topic and posts about it every two milliseconds, that’s definitely a bot….But now, bot makers are getting more sophisticated in making human patterns and human interactions,” Sy said.

Lazatin, however, has a quick tip on how to defend oneself against trolls: ignore them.  

“I think trolls feed on attention and so the way to deal with the trolls is not to give them attention. That’s it,” said Lazatin. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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