This essay was the runner up in the Graduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017
Written by University of Oxford student, Jonas Haeg
This paper concerns the ethics of a relatively new and rising trend in political campaigning: the use of “political bots” (henceforth “polibots”). Polibots are amalgamations of computer code acting on social mediate platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) so as to mimic persons in order to gain influence over political opinions amongst people.
Currently, “many computer scientists and policy makers treat bot-generated traffic as a nuisance to be detected and managed”. This policy and opinion implies a particular ethical view of their nature, namely that there is something inherently morally problematic about them. Here, I question the aforementioned view of polibots. After presenting a brief sketch of what polibots are, I formulate three potential arguments against their use, but argue that none of them succeed in showing that polibots are intrinsically morally problematic.
A polibot is set up on a social media platform with a set of commands for its behaviour on that platform. Here I focus is one what I call “content-bots”: bots programmed to share certain content. These can be programmed to share praise, hate, news articles, facts; or to repost certain people’s posts online. Polibots also needs rules specifying the frequency of posting. Very likely, people program them specifically to make them appear like humans, e.g. there are times at which the bot “sleeps”, “works”, etc. Importantly, I also restrict attention to what I’ll call “modest” content bots.
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