Two-Thirds of U.S. Adults Know About Bots, and They Don’t Particularly Like Them

80 percent of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey believe they are mostly used for bad purposes

92 percent of U.S. adults are opposed to the use of bots to spread fake news - Credit by CookiesForDevo/iStock
Headshot of David Cohen

Bots need to work on their image, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

Pew found that 66 percent of U.S. adults know about social media bots—which it defined as “accounts that operate on their own, without human involvement, to post and interact with others on social media sites”—but just 16 percent have heard a lot about them.

Separating it by age, 78 percent of respondents 18 through 29 and 76 percent of those 30 through 49 had heard about bots, compared with just 58 percent of those 50 through 64 and 49 percent of respondents 65 and older.

78 percent of respondents with college degrees had heard about bots, versus 55 percent with only high school educations.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were more likely than Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to have heard about bots—72 percent and 61 percent, respectively.

Of those that knew about bots, 80 percent believe they are mostly used for bad purposes, while just 17 percent said they are being used for good purposes.

Pew surveyed 4,581 U.S. adults who are members of its “nationally representative” American Trends Panel between July 30 and Aug. 12, and its other findings included:

  • 47 percent of respondents who had heard about bots were very or somewhat confident that they could recognize those accounts on social platforms, but only 7 percent were very confident.
  • 81 percent of respondents who had heard about bots believe that at least a fair amount of news people get via social media comes from these accounts, with 17 percent saying that a great deal does.
  • 92 percent are opposed to the use of bots to spread fake news.

  • Other uses for bots that were unpopular included celebrities using them to gain more social media followers (67 percent of respondents opposed) and political parties using them to share information for or against one candidate (75 percent).
  • 66 percent believe social media bots have a mostly negative effect on how well-informed Americans are about current events, while just 11 percent see their effect as positive.
  • 78 percent support the use of bots by the government to post emergency updates. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.
Publish date: October 15, 2018 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT