Bizarre article on The Atlantic about a social-engineering study organized by Web Ecology Project. The goal, to determine if it was possible not only to infiltrate social networks, but also to influence them on a large scale by using social robots.
The group invited three teams to program "social bots" -- fake identities -- that could mimic human conversation on Twitter, and then picked 500 real users on the social network, the core of whom shared a fondness for cats. The Kiwis armed @JamesMTitus with a database of generic responses ("Oh, that's very interesting, tell me more about that") and designed it to systematically test parts of the network for what tweets generated the most responses, and then to talk to the most responsive people.
In the case of @JamesMTitus, the robot gained 109 followers in two weeks and all three robots had successfully insinuated themselves into the centre of the target network.
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