Introduction to social bots.

Bots, also known as Web Robots or Internet Bots, are software that is used to do simple and repetetive tasks to substitute human labor. The most widespread use of bots is in web site spidering or web site crawling where these programs crawl and index web sites to create a map of the internet.

Bots are part of the internet since the very beginning. There is a growing number of bot types that can be encounter nowadays. Apart from web crawlers, bots have been widely used as spambots to distribute spam emails or as chatterbots (also called talk bots, chatterboxes or artificial conversational entitities), bots that simulate human conversation, mainly in a chat room or instant messaging environment, and intent to fool human users into thinking that the program is a human being. This is famously known as the turing test of chatterbots.

Chatterbots in the commercial area can also have the purpose to offer another source of product support where human support labor is limited, or simply to automatically distribute information, such as weather forecasts or traffic information. The output of a chatterbot, text or voice, depends on the design of the software and the budget of the development. Although these bots often succeed in reading, interpreting, and responding to a humans input, the technical backend of the software is often rather simple. The most common technique is to scan the input text for keywords and compare them to a database with possible answers that include these keywords, the answers with the highles compliance is then given back to the user. This is a reason why chatterbots can be easily indentified by human beings, given the often unnatural way of responding or the incapacity to participate in a more elaborated conversation.

With the appearance of massive social media the chatterbots have developed further. The tremendous amount of publically availabe human conversation especially created by the users of twitter, but also by other social network services, have given software engeneers new possibilities to enhance the quality of chatterbots. These new generation of internet bots is recently better known as socialbots and marks a new step in the evolution of such software.

By definition a social bot is “an automation software that controls an account on a particular OSN (Online Social Network), and has the ability to perform basic activities such as posting a message and sending a connection request. What makes a socialbot different from self-declared bots (e.g., Twitter bots that post up-to-date weather forecasts) and spambots is that it is designed to be stealthy, that is, it is able to pass itself off as a human being. “(Boshmaf, et al., 2011)

Social bots do not only communicate in such a social network environment, they are even able to create their proper social network around them. Just like every human user, they are able to create or cut connections to other users (follow/unfollow or friending/unfriending), they are able to distinguish between direct conversation with a specific individual or public conversation, and they are able to reference to other sources via web site links or retweets. These sophisticated means of imitating human behavior trick much more user into believing that such a bot is actually a human being. 


BOSHMAF, Yazan & MUSLUKHOV, Ildar & BEZNOSOV Konstantin & RIPEANU, Matei (2011). “The socialbot network: when bots socialize for fame and money”. In Proceedings of the 27th Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC’11), December 2011: LERSSE-RefConfPaper-2011-008

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