Regulations for bots?

It’s a possibility under the Bot Disclosure and Accountability Act in Congress, which would direct the Federal Trade Commission to create a rule requiring social-media companies to disclose any social-media bots on their platform.

The bill also prohibits candidates and political parties from using bots, which are computerized imitations of a person.

The proposal from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., aims “to protect the right of the American public under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to receive news and information from disparate sources by regulating the use of automated software programs intended to impersonate or replicate human activity on social media.”

The legislation cites a Pew Research Center poll in 2005 showing “only 5 percent of adults in the United States used online social media, but by 2018, 69 percent of adults in the United States reported using some type of social media, including 88 percent of adults under the age of 29, and 67 percent of adults in the United States reportedly obtained some of their news from social media, including 78 percent of adults under the age of 50.”

However, it says, “a study titled ‘Social bots distort the 2016 U.S. presidential election online discussion’ found that, during the 2016 United States presidential election, approximately 400,000, or 15 percent, of the users of the social media website Twitter who discussed the election were social media bots.”

“Those bots produced 3,800,000 tweets, which accounted for 19 percent of all tweets regarding the election.”

That means computer software was sending out the criticisms of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Congress has been addressing the controversy over changes by Facebook and Google in their algorithms – the computer codes that push a story higher on a reader’s page or make it vanish altogether – with Republicans charging discrimination against conservative viewpoints.

EPIC recently sent a statement to the House Judiciary Committee prior to its hearing this week on the content-filtering practices of the social-media giants, arguing that disclosing the criteria for the codes “could help establish fairness, transparency, and accountability for much of what users see online.”

Prior to the first hearing on the subject, in April, EPIC told the committee: “Free speech rights are curtailed when platforms use secret algorithms to automatically filter online content. Algorithmic transparency is imperative to identify potential biases, and also to identify anticompetitive behavior that could favor the content of a platform over the content of a competitor.”

One recent example was Facebook censoring quotes from the Declaration of Independence as “hate” speech.

“Self-rating schemes by private entities will turn the internet into a homogenized medium dominated by commercial speakers.”

Feinstein said the bot bill “is designed to help respond to Russia’s efforts to interfere in U.S. elections through the use of social media bots, which spread divisive propaganda.”

“This bill would require social media companies to disclose all bots that operate on their platforms and prohibit U.S. political campaigns from using fake social media bots for political advertising.”


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