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The unprecedented growth of influencer culture across social media – in which anyone with more than a few hundred followers can transform into a micro-celebrity – is increasingly leading social networks to experiment with new ways to simulate online fame. Perhaps the most interesting experiment to date is Botnet, which is a social network app launched by Internet entrepreneur and Turntable.fm co-founder Billy Chasen.
What is Botnet?
The basic premise of Botnet is as simple as it is profound – it is a social network populated only by you and adoring bots. It has been described as a “social media app without people.” Botnet is designed to simulate the experience of mega-fame on the Internet. What does it feel like, for example, when anything you post online immediately gets liked and upvoted by thousands of people? What does it feel like when any photo that you post online immediately attracts rave comments and adulation? If you’re tired of being just a run-of-the-mill micro-influencer, Botnet can make you feel like a Kardashian-level celebrity influencer.
To make that happen, Botnet uses a sophisticated AI platform for natural language processing, so that the bots can understand what you just posted online, and then devise a logical (and overwhelmingly positive) response for it. Thus, it’s more than bots just saying things like “Awesome!” to everything you post or upload online. Instead, it’s a bit more nuanced – a photo announcing a new hairstyle, for example, might be accompanied by commentary about how cute or sexy you look with that new hairstyle.
The psychology of fame
From a psychological perspective, what is most fascinating about Botnet is that users don’t only want to hear a non-stop stream of praise. Some of them, quite bluntly, also want to hear from the haters. According to Botnet, one of the most popular features on the social network is something called the “troll bot,” which is designed to send out negative comments to some of your posts online. This mimics reality, in which even A-list celebrities must deal with the trolls. In recent months, celebrities like Lizzo, Pete Davidson and Kelly Marie Tran have all dealt with abusive Internet trolls, to the extent that they’ve abandoned social platforms entirely for extended periods of time.
And other social networks have also sprung up to deal with the various aspects and nuances of Internet fame. One of the most interesting is Cameo, which enables anyone to sign up for a personalized greeting from a top celebrity that can then be shared via social media. It’s basically the same as a shoutout from a celebrity friend, as long as you’re willing to fork over a few hundred dollars. A personalized celebrity shoutout from Caitlyn Jenner, for example, will run you $2,500. And if you’re a Philadelphia sports fan, you can get a personalized greeting from the likes of Ron Jaworski for $200. In short, being truly famous means more than just thousands of likes or hundreds of thousands of followers – it also requires social proof that other celebrities know who you are.
How will Facebook adapt their algorithms?
Going forward, it’s easy to see how social networks like Facebook could tweak their own AI-powered algorithms to take into account the various psychological, emotional and mental aspects of fame. And it’s here that things might not be so obvious. For example, we’re so used to talking about the “echo chamber” of social media platforms that we may have lost sight of the fact that, deep down, many of us might actually want a few “troll bots” in our lives. Right now, if you’re an AOC supporter, you probably only see and hear content that supports your view of the world. But wouldn’t it be fascinating if Facebook begins to program little “Trump bots” to shake up your view of reality every now and then and trigger you into posting even more content on the platform?
And don’t put it past CEO Mark Zuckerberg to do something like this. Back in 2014, he ran into a firestorm of controversy for tweaking news feeds in order to play around with the psychology and emotions of Facebook users. Just think what’s possible today. Using AI and natural language processing, it might be possible to transform Facebook into a vast, global psychological experiment on celebrity and fame.