Of course, I had various feelings about what I saw and heard. According to the story, members of the Trump campaign, Russian operatives, and others, used 'bots' to influence online discussions during the campaign season.
So let's start with a little background: What's a 'bot'? A bot is a word derived from 'robot.' Instead of a mechanical device, it consists of a piece of software code, running on a computer connected to the internet. It is designed to detect certain key words in online discussions automatically, by examining all the data traffic coming out of that social media system. It's easy to set one up to monitor or 'listen' to everything on Twitter, for example, 24 hours a day. As soon as a key word is detected in something someone posts, it adds one or more comments to that discussion, masquerading as a real person. What's important is that what the bot adds is pre-programmed to issue a comment designed to distract, distort, or otherwise hijack the discussion and divert it from its original topic, usually starting with some kind of misinformation.
So, what do I think about all this?
I think we are experiencing a distinct hazard of text communication among a mix of friends and strangers online. Our online discussions are like unprotected sex. While you're doing it you have no sensation of being infected. It's only later on that you find out, when symptoms appear. Such as when your candidate loses the election. By then, it's too late.
So, how do we 'get infected?' Easy. It starts with the fact that text does not carry with it any facial expressions, tone of voice, or identifying characteristics of the other person. It is amazingly easy for someone to impersonate someone else. Or create a machine, a 'bot,' to impersonate a real person. This is a glaring flaw easily exploited by those who wish to 'vandalize' legitimate discussion.
The second factor is how tempting it is to respond quickly to someone when we have strong feelings about what they have said. We think, "That's outrageous!" or "That's a lie," and we want to contradict what they have said right away. Jumping into an ongoing discussion is easy and compelling.
In doing so, we may have failed to read the entire thread that preceded the comment we found offensive. We respond from our own memory or concept of the relevant facts, often without stopping to do any research to make sure we really know what we're talking about.
This is how a lie can get half way around the world before the truth has had a chance to lace up its shoes. We help spread it because our feelings are so strong and it's so easy to just 'bark back' at someone without putting much thought into it.
Look. We humans evolved for millions of years without any remote communication. We could bang drums, make smoke signals, or yell across the savanna, but that was about it. Our world was all hands on, arms length, face to face, and within smelling distance, pretty much. Now, with our 'fight or flight (or freeze)' responses intact, we have developed massive long distance communication with groups of people whom we cannot see, touch, smell, or hear. We can just read what they have typed. Our ability to discern what is real or what is fake is all but lost.
As the world of social media becomes less and less reliable, where do we turn? One possibility is that we turn more to face to face communication and direct personal experience. True, word of mouth has its own reliability problems (the old 'game of telephone'). And eye witnesses can still have different impressions of what they saw. There will probably always be the temptation to repeat a story and fail to check our facts.
What about events of interest that are far away? Do we have to start traveling in person, just to get our news? Or, is it possible that our attention to things far away has seduced us into neglecting what's close by? Perhaps we are starting to realize that what's close by could stand a little more of our attention, especially our local corner of the biosphere, including the plants, animals, water, and the soil right beneath our feet.
The next time you're tempted to react, remember, you might be arguing with no one. Just a comment generated by a (software) machine that's not really listening to anything you say. Just planted there to provoke you into reacting.
Meanwhile, I bet you have never actually seen where your water, your food, or your energy comes from. Maybe it's time.