@Dissidentbot: dissent will be automated!

06/12/2018 - 15:40 to 16:00
short talk (20 min)

Session abstract: 

Taking my lead from the (alleged) Russian participation in the 2016 US election, my contribution to the 2017 UK general election was @dissidentbot. This is 500 lines of ruby code running on a raspberry pi and tasked with heckling UK politicians via Twitter. As such it provided a valuable contribution to the democratic debate. While twitter has not yet identified @Dissidentbot as actively interfering with the UK election, I am confident its few hundreds of tweets helped shape the outcome.

This talk looks at the engineering aspects of the project, the production experience such as Twitter's spam blocking algorithms, runaway-reply-loops, and the challenge of generating new content.

More important are the social and ethical aspects. Twitter has changed the nature of communication between polticians and the electorate, sometimes for the better, but sadly, sometimes not. Does @Dissidentbot improve the communications by giving us an immediate right to respond with our own message? Or does it worsen the on-line discourse which it's clear is shaping referendums and elections.

Most critically: the fact that a ruby script randomly picking phrases can become an active participant in the online debate of an election is not a good sign for a functional democracy. 

Expect live demos with audience participation