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Twitter and Facebook bots could influence Calgary election


We saw it in the United States during their Presidential Election, and it may become a factor in the upcoming Calgary election

There has been a significant rise in fake social media accounts in the city, with some targeting the mayor, councillors and other candidates on Twitter and Facebook.

It’s estimated that hundreds of these fake or bot accounts have been created in the last couple of months, in the lead-up to the October 16 vote.

Zain Velji, Campaign Manager for Mayor Naheed Nenshi, says the bots are similar in a few ways.

“Right now I would venture to say that we’re seeing at least a couple hundred that are actively commenting on issues of politics to even more blasé issues as well. But many of them having a political bent and bringing inflammatory language into the discussion.”

He adds that it’s pretty easy to spot bots, as they usually have no avatar, long names with numbers included, few or no followers, and all following similar accounts.

They will inflate support for some candidates by retweeting or sharing favourable stories, and on Facebook, some candidates receive a large amount of shares on their post in a suspiciously short amount of time.

These accounts have also been heavily engaging in some negative discourse.

“We’re seeing that the comments online, whether they be by bots or the inflammatory language be by real accounts, has increased significantly.”

Velji says this combines with a rise in Islamaphobic comments that Nenshi has pointed out in the past.

The bad language is the most noticeable part of the tactics, and it also gives a platform for fake news, like we saw during the 2016 Presidential Election south of the border.

“Where people, whether they’re programming the bot or they’re doing it themselves, feel like there’s a license and there’s an ability like there wasn’t before, to make comments attacking ad hominem style,” says Velji. “I think the other thing we’re seeing is outside of inflammatory language, we’re seeing a lot of misinformation, which is quite unfortunate.”

We can see them right on our own 660 NEWS Twitter account — dozens of newly created profiles, without any avatars, all following similar accounts such as news organizations in Calgary, the Flames, the mayor, and several other local accounts.

If you encounter these accounts, you can always report them to Twitter, along with muting or blocking them.

Velji believes these bots will have the potential to influence the October vote.

“I think it can have a lasting effect on our political discourse, for sure.”