From New York Times:
“But today’s bots, to better camouflage their identity, have real-sounding names. They keep human hours, stopping activity during the middle of the night and picking up again in the morning. They share photos, laugh out loud — LOL! — and even engage in conversations with each other. And there are millions of them.
These imaginary citizens of the Internet have surprising power, making celebrities, wannabe celebrities and companies seem more popular than they really are, swaying public opinion about culture and products and, in some instances, influencing political agendas.(…)
There are a number of different ways to build bots. One of the most popular bot management tools is a program called Zeus, which sells for $700 and offers a simple dashboard from which you can control your bot army. (In addition to creating social media bots, the program is used for more nefarious purposes, like identity theft.) More advanced programmers build their own bot farms from scratch.
Bots often carry the hashtags — online road signs for a particular discussion — of viewpoints that their owners actually oppose, to try to confuse people or muffle or redirect discussions.
During the 2012 presidential elections in Mexico, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was accused of using tens of thousands of bots to drown out opposing parties’ messages on Twitter and Facebook. The PRI is to said have employed a little trickery, parsing and twisting language enough to confuse people about what the opposition really meant to say online. (…)”