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Technological and Digital Risk: Research Issues

Edited By Gevisa La Rocca and Juan Martínez Torvisco

What are the borders of risk? How is the perception of risk related to new technologies and digital changing? This book discusses these topics, moving from theories to research data, looking for concrete answers now, or taking a picture of reality. The volume is divided into three main sections: Exploring the Edges of Risk, according to sociological, psychological and artificial intelligence perspective; Technological and Digital Risks, exploring social media, cyberbullying, hate speech, social bots on digital platforms; Risk in the Cities, working with risk and deviance, risk communication, environmental and nuclear risks. Inside, research data from Europe, USA and Mexico are discussed.

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Chapter Five Who Bot There Friend or Foe? Social Bots & Digital Platforms (Marzia Antenore / Elisabetta Trinca)

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Marzia Antenore and Elisabetta Trinca

This essay explores potential risks associated with the proliferation of social bots on digital platforms. While it is evident from computer science scholarship that social bots play a key role in the spread of online (mis)information (Shao et al. 2017), there is no sociological research on why bots act undisturbed on social networking platforms. Going beyond a merely technological approach, this paper aims at investigating the phenomenon of social bots from a sociological perspective.

Social bots (often shortened to “bots”) are socio-technical entities that have recently reached a pervasive presence on the main digital platforms. Bots are algorithms which appear indistinguishable from human accounts and are developed to influence people by emulating human online behavior, effectively functioning as social counterparts in a shared media ecosystem. Bots share images, post status updates and tweets, engage in conversations, send and accept friend requests and followers. The behaviour of bots ranges from automatically reposting content to users, to simulating human behaviour by taking part in communication with human users (Stieglitz at al. 2017).

From a social and cultural point of view, the impact of these “human-like” artifacts is remarkable because they are designed to not only perform unwanted work (as spam bots do) or simulate simple conversations with humans (like the pioneer ELIZA, Chat Bot by Joseph Weizenbaum), but also to present a social counterpart through which relationships can be established (Muhle 2017). This phenomenon has spread widely over the last...

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