Common Sense Supports BOT Act to Identify Bot Accounts on Social Media

Unlabeled Bots Spread False Information and Enable Personal Attacks, Scams, and Election Hacking, Putting Kids at Risk

Common Sense Media
Monday, April 16, 2018

SACRAMENTO, CA – Common Sense parents will testify at a California State Senate hearing today in support of SB 1001, the Bots Online Transparency Act of 2018, or the BOT Act, authored by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys). The BOT Act would require labeling and transparency for unlabeled social media bots, also called impersonator bots.

Unlabeled bots are common on social media, with an estimated 100 million bot accounts between Facebook and Twitter alone. The destructive role of unlabeled Russian bots in the American election is well documented.

As there has been no effort by Washington to regulate the problem, bots continue to push forward attacks and false information. Bots played a significant role in attacking high school students victimized by the Parkland, Florida, shooting, in encouraging kids to use electronic cigarettes, in spreading racism online, and in recent human rights violations in Kenya and Mexico.

The first hearing will be before the Senate Committee on Business, Professions, and Economic Development today at 1:30 p.m. PDT. The second hearing will be before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 24, 2018.

"Social media companies have been completely irresponsible in protecting kids and families who use their products," said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. "We see the results, and it's a fractured democracy. California led the way in creating many of these technologies, and now we have to lead the way in fixing them -- and, in the meantime, protecting families from them."

The BOT Act would, among other things, prohibit bots from intentionally misleading Californians into believing they are real people. Bots would be required to accurately label themselves as such if they appeared on a website or app with more than 50 million users a month in the U.S. Companies would have 72 hours to respond and would be required to keep the California Attorney General informed. Many bots that provide customer service are already clearly labeled, so they would not be affected by this law.

Senator Bob Hertzberg, in an effort to highlight the issue, has created a bot, @Bot_Hertzberg. The Twitter account is a self-identified automated account. It offers up automated posts, based on modern research, to explain why this bill is important and to demonstrate that bots, when properly identified, can exist positively in the social media ecosystem.

Facts: The Reach of Unlabeled Social Media Bots

● An average of 16.4 percent of the followers of Instagram's top 20 accounts are fraudulent.

● By some calculations, as many as 48 million of Twitter's reported active users -- nearly 15 percent -- are automated accounts designed to simulate real people, though the company claims that number is far lower.

Facebook estimated that as many as 60 million bots may be infesting its platform.

Overall, bots -- good and bad -- are responsible for 52 percent of web traffic, according to a new report by the security firm Imperva. Harmful bots have the edge over helper bots, which were responsible for 29 percent and 23 percent of all web traffic, respectively.

● The Pew Internet Center released a report on April 9, 2018, finding that, "Of all tweeted links to popular websites, 66 percent are shared by accounts with characteristics common among automated bots. The 500 most active suspected bot accounts are responsible for 22 percent of the tweeted links to popular news and current events sites over the period."

About Common Sense Kids Action:

Common Sense Kids Action is the advocacy arm of Common Sense, the nation's leading nonprofit dedicated to helping kids thrive in today's digital world. With tens of millions of users, Common Sense empowers parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology to be a positive force in kids' lives.


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