Will They Negatively Impact the 2020 Election?
Drawing of hand holding a phone with texts happening on it and a robot off to the side texting too

Most of us are aware and skeptical of “bots” interfering with our daily lives. Some modern examples of this include suspicious insurance calls and obviously fake suitors on dating apps. It seems most of us have encountered them in one way or another.

The creation of these bots came from the modern need for automation — using robots to increase efficiency. This often means removing human responsibility. For instance, we know from the accounting industry that automation has all but erased the need for the human touch in data entry.

The response to these chatbots by the general public undoubtedly had a strong impact on the last election, though you may not have seen it talked about very much. For instance, there’s significant evidence to show that people voted for Donald Trump as a response to losing their jobs to automation. This doesn’t even account for chatbots on social media, however, which were used to sway public opinion toward Trump. So it’s very clear that chatbots negatively had an effect on the last round. How will they impact the 2020 election?

Chatbots in 2016

The 2016 election saw technology, specifically chatbots, used to spread propaganda across social platforms. The New York Times noted that while there were pro-Trump and pro-Clinton bots, the amount of Trump bots greatly outnumbered Clinton bots. But what did these bots do exactly?

In some cases, the bots would post embarrassing photos, make references to the Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into Mrs. Clinton’s private email server, or produce false statements, for instance, that Mrs. Clinton was about to go to jail or was already in jail.

Now, the Clinton campaign (not just supporters) used similar technology, but they weren’t for the purposes of propaganda. Rather, they were specifically deployed to target Clinton’s supporters. They were primarily used to keep supporters updated on the state of the campaign or to get potential voters to register.

None of this negative coverage regarding chatbots or technology has diminished their relevance. However there has been a crackdown on those spammy, propaganda-spreading ones on websites like Twitter. This has continued recently, to an extent that some would argue should have been employed before Trump’s election.

The Concern Over Further Technological Involvement

Technology in the wrong hands period is concerning. As you may know, election hacking has been going on in some capacity for a long time, even internally. And while there is technology to prevent election fraud, the people with access to such tools have compromised interests. For instance, by taking a look at the history of electronic voting, you’ll notice that some of the politicians who helped bring voter machines to the political arena started their own electronic companies shortly afterward. Some of them have the ability to manipulate elections due to this.

But chatbots pose a specific threat due to their ability to push populist candidates. One writer even called them a “threat to democracy.” They used a recent example to defend this claim and demonstrate just how susceptible the public may be if this technology falls into the wrong hands:

In the days following the disappearance of the columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Arabic-language social media erupted in support for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was widely rumored to have ordered his murder. On a single day in October, the phrase “we all have trust in Mohammed bin Salman” featured in 250,000 tweets. “We have to stand by our leader” was posted more than 60,000 times, along with 100,000 messages imploring Saudis to “Unfollow enemies of the nation.” In all likelihood, the majority of these messages were generated by chatbots.

So you see, technological abuse is easier than you might think if employed for subversive purposes. To truly fight future technological manipulation, we have to pose restrictions and accountability on the powers that be. But that can be a difficult task, especially when the technology is owned by those powers.

How Chatbots Will Be Used In 2020

With all of this said, it’s clear that machine learning is advancing beyond what we ever thought possible. It’s possible that the unemployment consequences may increase even more, and it’s not just those older industry workers in middle America who may lose their jobs to it.

A large part of projected spending on advertising in the 2020 election is already assumed to be spent on digital methods like Snapchat, Facebook Ads, and Google Ads. Chatbots are a big part of this and will be used by both the right and the left side of the aisle. With that in mind, this is what MIT Technology Review had this to say regarding their use in the 2020 election:

In a few years, conversational bots might seek out susceptible users and approach them over private chat channels. They’ll eloquently navigate conversations and analyze a user’s data to deliver customized propaganda. Bots will point people toward extremist viewpoints and counter arguments in a conversational manner.

So in short, chatbots will get smarter. We may not be able to see propaganda for what it is if this happens. We will have to wait and see, but it’s good to keep an eye out for who is making headlines and who is spreading information. They may not be human.

Do you have any future predictions regarding chatbots in the 2020 presidential election? Let us know in the comments below!