Our pal Jason Falls doesn't agree with the social media purists, for example. He says that any way businesses can make business gains using social media is valid, and we'd have to agree. If you want to broadcast on Twitter and you have a loyal following that follows your broadcasts, it may break the "rules" of social media, but it's obviously working.
But something about this story is really uncomfortable.
It's the human/bot deception. Would you ever use an automated computer program to simulate a real person in order to leverage Twitter for your company?
According to Wired, Google+ product manager named Greg Marra developed @trackgirl, an experiment designed to "see if an automated program could worm its way into online networks of real people." The bot found people using running-themed keywords on Twitter and started posted matching messages as if they were "her" own.
Three times a day, she'd pick five people to follow, and she'd always follow back anybody who followed her. Because she seemed connected to the right people, @trackgirl started to gain followers, who thought her cut-and-paste messages about the agony and the ecstasy of long-distance running were coming from a real person. One day, however, the Twitter bot posted a message saying that she'd hurt her ankle. Soon after, her followers wanted to know if @trackgirl was on the mend.
Twitter bot or real person? The idea is to build trust and seem authentic.
The idea was to trick people into following @trackgirl, but the unintended result was that people interacted with her.
"Social bot attacks are actually about building a trust relationship," Marra says. "So they're very slow attacks. Your goal is not on the first day that you launch your bot army to do anything your goal is over months to build up history, build up credibility and build up an audience. And then, when you want, you can take your infrastructure that you've built and apply your infrastructure to a presidential campaign."
So what does this say about authenticity in social media? Is it really that easy to fake? If so, how authentic are we really being?
Also, what kind of cumulative effect could this have? With this kind of Twitter bot, it's very possible that thousands of people would follow a bot and then retweet marketing messages or political messages they thought were coming from a real person.
What are the clues that tip you off NOT to follow someone or that they aren't a real person?