Disruptive and Destructive? A Typology of Social Bots in Public Relations
We set out to challenge the perception that social bots are solely disruptive and destructive. We revisit the definition of social bots in the context of public relations and
synthesize various applications of social bots into a new typology that helps PR practitioners better understand the scope of social bots and identify the opportunities and potential for social bots to be used legitimately in PR.
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[00:00:01.970]Hello, my name is Janica Choong, and I'm a senior
[00:00:03.872]in Advertising and Public Relations.
[00:00:06.840]For my UCARE project,
[00:00:08.320]I have set out to challenge the perception
[00:00:10.270]that social bots are solely disruptive
[00:00:13.880]Together with Professor Bryan Wang,
[00:00:16.000]I have created a typology of social bots
[00:00:18.027]in public relations substantiated by a review
[00:00:20.870]of case studies supporting the categories of the typology.
[00:00:25.290]The proliferation of social media has been accompanied
[00:00:28.100]by the dramatic growth in the use of social bots.
[00:00:31.060]Unfortunately, the PR industry is largely unprepared
[00:00:33.980]for social bots.
[00:00:35.810]Overall, there is a lack of concrete knowledge, skills
[00:00:39.260]or sound plans to tackle the threat social bots pose
[00:00:42.080]to communication strategies.
[00:00:44.000]PR practitioners are also largely unaware
[00:00:46.530]of the potential benefits and uses of social bots
[00:00:52.180]In the paper, we revisit the definition
[00:00:54.490]of social bots in the context of public relations
[00:00:56.636]and synthesize various applications of social bots
[00:00:59.750]into a new typology that helps PR practitioners
[00:01:02.970]better understand the scope of social bots,
[00:01:05.430]and identify opportunities and potential
[00:01:08.150]for social bots to be used legitimately
[00:01:11.710]The current literature provides a host
[00:01:13.550]of varying and inconsistent definitions of social bots.
[00:01:18.000]In this paper, we posit social bots need
[00:01:20.330]to have the following the three characteristics
[00:01:23.050]algorithm driven, human emulation
[00:01:25.610]of social behavior, and presence on social media platforms.
[00:01:29.890]We thus define social bots as computer algorithms
[00:01:33.260]that emulate human behavior to produce or aggregate content
[00:01:37.270]and interact with humans on social media.
[00:01:42.530]Some scholars have attempted to categorize different types
[00:01:45.430]of social bots, but a conceptual framework is still absent
[00:01:48.880]in the literature.
[00:01:50.350]We propose a typology that categorizes social bots
[00:01:53.600]along two dimensions: Autonomy and Intent.
[00:01:57.690]We propose that each dimension is a continuum
[00:02:00.340]and social bots can be categorized based
[00:02:02.570]on the degree of autonomy and the moral intent
[00:02:05.360]of their use. On degrees of autonomy, automated social bots
[00:02:09.860]repeat tasks based on triggers or scripted patterns.
[00:02:14.010]Human controlled bots have the extended capabilities
[00:02:17.100]of content production and the ability to capitalize
[00:02:19.990]on viral social trends due
[00:02:22.190]to the integration of human control.
[00:02:24.890]The moral intent of social bot use is based
[00:02:28.270]on the reasoning that social bots themselves
[00:02:30.660]are neither unethical nor ethical.
[00:02:33.530]What is important is how they are designed to behave.
[00:02:36.820]We categorize social bots on whether they are used
[00:02:39.520]with malicious or benign intent.
[00:02:42.560]In this study, we will also be focusing
[00:02:44.960]on Twitter as the social media platform.
[00:02:48.690]Here we see the typology with the case studies mapped
[00:02:51.540]onto the dual dimensional space of autonomy
[00:02:55.010]demonstrating the utility of the theoretical framework.
[00:02:58.620]In the automated and malicious social bot category,
[00:03:01.500]we have the case studies of social bots
[00:03:04.000]that are used to manipulate social media metrics
[00:03:06.210]and to launch long-term reputational attacks.
[00:03:09.530]Cynk is a social media company
[00:03:10.750]that manipulated financial information
[00:03:12.790]to raise a penny stock shares, while Devumi
[00:03:15.330]is a social bot company that sold millions
[00:03:17.730]of automated social bot accounts
[00:03:19.540]to falsify social media metrics.
[00:03:22.130]Nestle Waters' reputation was tarnished when
[00:03:24.852]Bloomsberg spread unfavorable news
[00:03:27.270]for months on end.
[00:03:28.860]Bell Pottinger was a PR firm that caused racial unrest
[00:03:32.570]in South Africa through an influence campaign
[00:03:35.080]propagated by automated social bots
[00:03:37.200]to spread incendiary messages.
[00:03:40.090]For controlled and malicious social bots,
[00:03:42.174]they can be deployed to perform the same tasks
[00:03:45.470]as automated social bots, but at a higher degree
[00:03:48.180]of discretion, precision and content production.
[00:03:52.330]A network of social bots controlled
[00:03:54.920]by a botmaster can make use
[00:03:57.280]of trending hashtags to plant and spread misinformation,
[00:04:00.560]such as the hashtag hijacking of the #DemDebates
[00:04:03.930]during the 2020 presidential debates
[00:04:06.180]to spread anti-vaccine information.
[00:04:08.950]Controlled social bot activity is also harder
[00:04:11.480]to fight against, proven in the case
[00:04:13.500]of Turning Point USA, where hired employees work together
[00:04:17.350]with social bots to create a hybrid network
[00:04:19.710]for platform manipulation.
[00:04:22.090]In the automated benign social bot category,
[00:04:25.000]there are content-curating social bots and social bots used
[00:04:28.570]in counter-strategies. Content-curating social bots only
[00:04:33.660]retweet information and craft representational
[00:04:36.810]digital narratives that could be used
[00:04:38.388]for streamlining information.
[00:04:40.810]The representing case study is the two single most
[00:04:43.330]active accounts that are openly social bots
[00:04:45.870]from both sides of the StrongerIn-Brexit Twitter Debate.
[00:04:49.670]We also observed social bots used
[00:04:51.660]in pro-vaccine counter strategy
[00:04:53.700]as well as counter-radicalization strategy
[00:04:56.200]against violent extremist organizations.
[00:04:59.470]Lastly, in the controlled and benign social bot category,
[00:05:02.780]we observe two types of social bots, recruitment
[00:05:05.740]and crisis communication social bots.
[00:05:08.320]Botovist and Leadwise are social bot systems
[00:05:11.280]that act as a recruitment tool to find suitable
[00:05:14.380]and qualified volunteers to reach
[00:05:16.250]out as the first point of contact.
[00:05:18.600]They show the ability to pinpoint
[00:05:20.120]and target a specific audience
[00:05:21.730]with a high response rate. As for crisis communication,
[00:05:25.750]benign social bots played a big role
[00:05:27.590]during the Manchester Bombing in 2017 in updating the public
[00:05:31.360]on the latest news and reducing uncertainties
[00:05:33.690]and panic. Social bots can also be used
[00:05:37.040]to assist disaster medical team communication
[00:05:39.820]by providing logistic support
[00:05:41.820]to redirect and categorize messages through hashtags.
[00:05:46.500]Taking in the case studies,
[00:05:48.320]the key to utilizing benign social bots,
[00:05:50.720]either automatic or controlled, as a supporting tool
[00:05:53.400]for PR practitioners is disclosure and transparency.
[00:05:57.800]Malicious social bots set out
[00:05:59.410]with an intent to falsify and manipulate.
[00:06:02.680]Benign social bots, on the other hand,
[00:06:04.440]are transparent and play more
[00:06:06.090]supportive strategy roles. When using social bots
[00:06:09.670]as a tactic, PR practitioners should make known
[00:06:12.660]to all relevant stakeholders
[00:06:14.470]that they are communicating with social bots
[00:06:17.369]and not humans. Guided by clear purpose and intent,
[00:06:20.300]social bots can help PR practitioners achieve
[00:06:22.690]a more streamlined,
[00:06:23.940]open communication with target audiences.
[00:06:27.380]This two dimensional typology can help PR practitioners
[00:06:31.130]identify the disruption potential
[00:06:33.130]of social bots as well as their conducive uses.
[00:06:37.110]The typology also gives a clear overview
[00:06:39.340]of when social bots can
[00:06:41.050]and should be used.
[00:06:43.000]Despite current challenges
[00:06:44.270]and uncertainties regarding the wide adoption of social bots
[00:06:46.977]in PR, we maintain that social bots may be disruptive
[00:06:50.790]in public relations, but they do not need to be destructive.
[00:06:55.579]At the end of this presentation,
[00:06:57.600]I would like to thank Professor Bryan Wang
[00:06:59.830]for his guidance and motivation through the process
[00:07:02.270]of writing this paper,
[00:07:03.690]and would also like to thank UCARE
[00:07:05.440]in supporting this research.
[00:07:08.220]Thank you and have a nice day.
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