Can you tell the difference between a genuine person's online activity and the activity of a carefully-crafted social media 'bot'? It's becoming more and more difficult. E.g.: scientists from the Federal University of Ouro Preto in Brazil revealed that Carina Santos, a much-followed journalist on Twitter, was actually not a real person but a bot that they had created. Based on the circulation of her tweets, two commonly used ranking sites, Twitalyzer and Klout, ranked Ms. Santos as having more online “influence” than Oprah Winfrey.

According to the author of the article I linked socialbots are being used to sway political discussions, or quell them entirely. He cites the example of Russian elections in 2011 when thousands of otherwise dormant Twitter accounts, created months before the election campaign, suddenly became active and tweeted disparaging messages targeting "anti-Kremlin" (I presume he meant anti-incumbent Putin/Medvedev) activists. Similarly in Mexico there were bots which tweeted nothing but gibberish and appended their tweets with a series of hashtags which had been used by anti-government activists to spread their message. The Twitter spam filters began flagging all posts which contained these hashtags and the activists' accounts were being suspended because they had been made to seem as though they were spammers in the narrow view of the automatic spam filtering system.

Less nefarious socialbots are coming under fire too. Australia will be having an election next month and the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, has gained an enormous number of Facebook and Twitter followers over the weekend. The other parties are accusing Abbott's party of hiring people to 'create' followers, to manufacture bot accounts to be 'friends' with him, to make him seem more popular in the online world than he really is.

The author also cites an example from OKCupid. They recently took over another dating site and one of OKCupid's cofounders noted that this smaller site they'd taken over was rife with socialbots who posed as people looking for love. When they eradicated the socialbots they also found a 15% decrease in traffic from actual flesh-and-blood human beings; the OKCupid executive mused that people were happier to receive the attention from the bot accounts.

Can you tell when you're surrounded by socialbots? Do you feel you're being drowned out by socialbots? Do you enjoy the company of socialbots, or maybe even prefer it?

According to the article "Some researchers estimate that only 35 percent of the average Twitter user’s followers are real people," so perhaps you are a socialbot...