Don’t freak out, but there’s a good chance that bots have been spying on you. In fact, it’s possible that bots are snooping through your social media, looking at your browser history and scouring any websites you own even as you read this article.
In the information age, bots and algorithms govern much of the digital world, and without them, many services folks use might not work — or at least would work differently.
Many technology companies now use a huge number of algorithms to guide the functioning of various software and hardware platforms. Log onto Twitter or Facebook, and you’ll be presented with a variety of posts, including trending stories and activity by your friends.
Bots, which are small software programs that scan data, use algorithms to figure out what to present to you.
Think back to your high school science classes and you might remember using algorithms to get bits of data — say, the acceleration for an object in motion. Then you may have plugged that data into another formula, like one to measure force upon impact.
Bots work similarly. They use numerous algorithms to gather and analyze data. A bot might use one algorithm to gather a bunch of data, say regarding shares and engagement on a social media platform. This data could then be plugged into other bots and algorithms, perhaps one that looks at geographical location and keywords that are trending in news sources. Another bot might look at your past posts to figure out topics you’re interested in. Working together, these bots could figure out what info to present to you.
Anyone who knows how the algorithms work could use that information to game the system. Folks with an intuitive feel for social media may grasp what’s trending without needing to worry about the specifics of bots and algorithms. Another organization, however, might try to uncover how the algorithms work to push their own agenda.
The controversy today is whether social media has constructed algorithms to allow only one point of view.
You see an algorithm and a bot at work if Facebook fact checks your posts. If Facebook never fact checks your posts, you fit well into what the algorithm will allow.
Image by Gerd Altmann
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