"I Have No Idea What a Social Bot Is": On Users' Perceptions of Social Bots and Ability to Detect Them


Social bots—software agents controlling accounts on online social networks (OSNs)—have been employed for various malicious purposes, including spreading disinformation and scams. Understanding user perceptions of bots and ability to distinguish them from other accounts can inform mitigations. To this end, we conducted an online study with 297 users of seven OSNs to explore their mental models of bots and evaluate their ability to classify bots and non-bots correctly. We found that while some participants were aware of bots’ primary characteristics, others provided abstract descriptions or confused bots with other phenomena. Participants also struggled to classify accounts correctly (e.g., misclassifying >50% of accounts) and were more likely to misclassify bots than non-bots. Furthermore, we observed that perceptions of bots had a significant effect on participants’ classification accuracy. For example, participants with abstract perceptions of bots were more likely to misclassify. Informed by our findings, we discuss directions for developing user-centered interventions against bots.

International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction (HAI)