Kevin Brown

A Trustworthy Twitter Bot

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Kevin Brown’s twitter profile (@kevbrown618) describes him as a 26 year old progressive from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He’s an active member of #TheResistance and readily contributes to liberal social media campaigns such as #FireHanity (an effort to convince Fox News host Sean Hannity’s sponsors to turn their backs on his program, effectively stripping it of funding). His insights earned him retweets and likes by CNN contributor Jason Kander and hundreds of other people; his content has been seen over 131,000 times in just over 6 weeks.

Kevin is a pretty popular guy. He is also a Twitter bot.

There is a mythology around what Twitter bots are capable of because of the role they played in the 2016 Presidential election. I launched “Kevin Brown” in late July/early August as one of my weekend projects and my personal attempt to investigate the real impact Twitter bots could have on our public discourse.

The bots used during the 2016 election worked by pumping out high volumes of pre-programmed content or by sharing content produced by others that agreed with a certain assigned agenda. Content that was shared enough by bots would eventually be seen and shared by a real person, distributing the information to their personal network. People in that network would then see information coming from a source they trusted and possibly share the content themselves. Then the process repeats.

I wanted Kevin to be fundamentally different. Rather than spamming until a few people decided his content was worth sharing, Kevin would build a reputation as a trusted source that could be leveraged when distributing content. Building a bot that was capable of earning the trust of other users would require a degrees of autonomy and artificial intelligence not typically seen in Twitter bots. This would clearly be more work up-front, but the payoff would be less effort when attempting to get content shared by others.

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