Who Am I Speaking With? AI Chatbots And Social Media Engagement Bots

While there are plenty of legitimate uses for AI even when it comes to social media engagement, there are a number of misuses of it as well.
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Have you ever found yourself talking to a person online, perhaps on Facebook or Instagram, but something about their tone felt just a little bit off? As it happens, AI chatbot and engagement bots are quickly beginning to flood social media networks like Facebook and Twitter and more, all for the purpose of feigning real user engagement and growing a 'following' while a real user behind the scenes plots to use that veneer of credibility to exploit vulnerable users for scams and other malicious purposes.

While there are plenty of legitimate uses for AI even when it comes to social media engagement, there are a number of misuses of it as well. Let's look at some of the bad ones.

Authenticity Issues

AI-powered social media engagement bots are designed to interact with users, post updates, and respond to comments automatically. While they can help manage large volumes of social interactions, they often lack the authenticity that users expect from genuine interactions. For instance, a bot responding to a heartfelt comment with a generic reply can come across as insincere and robotic. This lack of authenticity can erode trust and damage a brand's reputation.

Manipulation and Spam

Engagement bots can be programmed to like, share, and comment on posts, but they can also be used maliciously to manipulate social media metrics. For example, bots can create the illusion of popularity by generating fake likes and comments, misleading genuine users about the true popularity of content. Additionally, they can flood social media platforms with spam, overwhelming real users with irrelevant or harmful content. This not only devalues genuine engagement but also risks violating platform policies, potentially leading to account suspensions or bans.

Algorithmic Bias and Misinformation

Social media bots can inadvertently reinforce algorithmic biases. If a bot is programmed to engage with certain types of content more frequently, it can skew the visibility of that content, creating an echo chamber effect. For instance, a bot designed to engage with posts about a particular political view might disproportionately amplify those views, contributing to the spread of misinformation. This can distort public perception and fuel polarization on social media platforms.

Privacy Invasion

Engagement bots often require access to user profiles and interactions to function effectively. This access can raise significant privacy concerns, as bots may collect and store personal information without users' explicit consent. For example, a bot that scans comments to identify trends might inadvertently collect sensitive information. If this data is not adequately protected, it can be vulnerable to breaches, putting user privacy at risk. Businesses using these bots must ensure they comply with privacy regulations and transparently communicate their data usage policies.

Deceptive Practices

AI technologies have advanced to the point where they can convincingly impersonate real human beings on social media (sort of). These AI personas can be used to engage with users, post updates, and even hold conversations. However, this practice can be highly deceptive - and jarring. Users might believe they are interacting with a real person, leading to trust issues for your company when the truth is revealed. For instance, a company using AI to impersonate a customer service representative might initially seem like they're handling queries efficiently, but customers may feel deceived and lose trust in the brand once they realize they were not talking to a real human.

This is particularly important for small businesses. While business owners struggling with not having enough hours in the day to do their traditional work, much less engage on social media to build their brand, might turn to AI to help keep the company's presence 'out there', the net result can be more harmful than good once users cotton onto the fact that it's just an algorithm talking back to them. If you decide to use AI in terms of customer management, you'll want to be up front with them as to what they're going to deal with, and also offer a lifeline of immediate human contact as soon as they feel it's necessary. After all, you don't want the transition to feel like a reduction in service quality, but an addition. That's why implementing an AI assistant to be available to your customers should be touted as an 'add-on' benefit, something that they can use to get simple answers to simple questions much more quickly than your traditional method of filing a ticket, for example.

Spread of Misinformation

AI-driven impersonation can be a powerful tool for spreading misinformation. Malicious actors can create fake accounts that seem genuine and use them to disseminate false information, sway public opinion, or even incite social unrest. These AI personas can mimic the behavior and language of real users, making it difficult for others to discern truth from falsehood. For example, during elections, AI bots can flood social media with misleading posts, significantly impacting voter perceptions and behaviors.

AI bots also often impersonate famous people, or even semi-famous people such as authors and the like, targeting impressionable individuals looking to break into a new market. This can be particularly dangerous for people who do not speak English as their native language, as they may not recognize subtle cues that the AI bot - or the scammer behind it - is a false identity.

Security Threats

Impersonating real individuals using AI poses significant security risks. Cybercriminals can use AI-generated personas to gain trust and extract sensitive information from unsuspecting users. This technique, known as social engineering, can lead to severe security breaches. For instance, an AI impersonator might pose as a company executive and request confidential information from employees. Just like a spear-phishing attack, this can lead to a digital break-in of a company who leaves their door open. If successful, this can lead to data breaches, financial loss, and significant reputational damage for the targeted organization.

What To Do About It?

The risks associated with interactive chatbots, social media engagement bots, and AI impersonation of real human beings cannot be overlooked. Deceptive practices, the spread of misinformation, significant security threats, and ethical and legal concerns present substantial challenges.

At the end of the day, right now there's no guaranteed way to tell whether the person you're talking to on the other end is real, except with a Zoom call. What's worse, in a few years that won't even be possible, most likely. The only way you can protect yourself, and your business, is to second guess things when something 'feels' wrong. If in doubt, ask about!

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