Automated bots are increasingly muddying election cycles in Africa, disrupting conversations, distorting facts, and bringing into focus the changing dynamics of politics in the continent.
Bots on social media became an influential voice during crucial Africa polls over the last year, claims a report called How Africa Tweets from communications consultancy Portland. These bots, defined by some as a new form of media, are software programs that combine artificial intelligence with communication skills and intimate human behavior. Using them, one could amplify a specific conversation on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook by posting videos, photos, and biased statements targeting particular hashtags and wordings.
In 10 elections across nine African nations which took place between June 2017 and March 2018, bots were used as important vessels for spreading misinformation and furthering negative narratives about major issues, candidates, and perceived electoral irregularities, say the report’s authors. In many countries, the chat bots undermined the influence of media outlets, independent bloggers, government entities, and even messages from politicians and campaigners themselves. And once the voting cycle was over, these bot armies turned their attention to issues elsewhere including outside Africa.
The report’s authors say their research was unable to identify specific bot sources or motivation for the deployment of the bots.