Automated social media accounts are being used by both sides in the Brexit debate, a new report shows, with some experts fearing that a sudden surge in activity by the "bots" could influence the referendum vote.
Researchers from Oxford University and Budapest's Corvinus University have found that bots are playing a "small but strategic role" in the social media conversation around Britain's referendum on European Union (EU) membership, the report released Monday explained.
And with Remain and Leave camps neck-and-neck in recent polls, the potential impact of bots on voting trends could prove to be significant.
Bots are automated programs that post from social media accounts of their own accord, with varying levels of human curation and, at face value, many are indiscernible from accounts managed by people.
Some bots simply deliver news or update feeds for organizations — including CNBC — while others are more complex, with an ability to interact with users and produce original content. A subset can be also be given "overtly political" or malicious tasks to "manipulate...choke off debate, and muddy political issues," particularly when public opinion is polarized, the report explained.