Sign In

Communications of the ACM

Computing ethics

Is That Social Bot Behaving Unethically?

Is That Social Bot Behaving Unethically? illustration

Credit: Getty Images

Attempting to answer the question posed by the title of this column requires us to reflect on moral goods and moral evils—on laws, duties, and norms, on actions and their consequences. In this Viewpoint, we draw on information systems ethics6,7 to present Bot Ethics, a procedure the general social media community can use to decide whether the actions of social bots are unethical. We conclude with a consideration of culpability.

Social bots are computer algorithms in online social networks.8 They can share messages, upload pictures, and connect with many users on social media. Social bots are more common than people often think.a Twitter has approximately 23 million of them, accounting for 8.5% of total users; and Facebook has an estimated 140 million social bots, which are between 5.5%−1.2% total users.b,c Almost 27 million Instagram users (8.2%) are estimated to be social bots.d LinkedIn and Tumblr also have significant social bot activity.e,f Sometimes their activity on these networks can be innocuous or even beneficial. For example, SF QuakeBotg performs a useful service by disseminating information about earthquakes, as they happen, in the San Francisco Bay area. However, in other situations, social bots can behave quite unethically.


No entries found

Log in to Read the Full Article

Sign In

Sign in using your ACM Web Account username and password to access premium content if you are an ACM member, Communications subscriber or Digital Library subscriber.

Need Access?

Please select one of the options below for access to premium content and features.

Create a Web Account

If you are already an ACM member, Communications subscriber, or Digital Library subscriber, please set up a web account to access premium content on this site.

Join the ACM

Become a member to take full advantage of ACM's outstanding computing information resources, networking opportunities, and other benefits.

Subscribe to Communications of the ACM Magazine

Get full access to 50+ years of CACM content and receive the print version of the magazine monthly.

Purchase the Article

Non-members can purchase this article or a copy of the magazine in which it appears.