For some, the goal is increasing popularity. Last month, computer 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, a commonly used ranking site, Twitalyzer, ranked Ms. Santos as having more online “influence” than Oprah Winfrey.
Socialbots are tapping into an ever-expanding universe of social media. Last year, the number of Twitter accounts topped 500 million. Some researchers estimate that only 35 percent of the average Twitter user’s followers are real people. In fact, more than half of Internet traffic already comes from nonhuman sources like bots or other types of algorithms. Within two years, about 10 percent of the activity occurring on social online networks will be masquerading bots, according to technology researchers.