Amid widespread reports of digital influence operations during major elections, policymakers, scholars, and journalists have become increasingly interested in the political impact of social media bots. Most recently, platform companies like Facebook and Twitter have been summoned to testify about bots as part of investigations into digitally enabled foreign manipulation during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Facing mounting pressure from both the public and from legislators, these companies have been instructed to crack down on apparently malicious bot accounts. But as this article demonstrates, since the earliest writings on bots in the 1990s, there has been substantial confusion as to exactly what a “bot” is and what it does. We argue that multiple forms of ambiguity are responsible for much of the complexity underlying contemporary bot‐related policy, and that before successful policy interventions can be formulated, a more comprehensive understanding of bots—especially how they are defined and measured—will be needed. In this article, we provide a typology of different types of bots, provide clear guidelines for better categorizing political automation, and unpack the impact that it can have on contemporary technology policy. We conclude by outlining the main challenges and ambiguities that will face both researchers and legislators as they tackle bots in the future.
"Unpacking the Social Media Bot: A Typology to Guide Research and Policy." Policy & Internet, 2018.