Bots and BotNets and Trolls oh my!

We all know (or we should know) that there are people out there who want to influence us for nefarious reasons. The ‘who’ is wide and varied, from nation-states to partisan operatives, lobbying groups to corporations, and pretty scary given their effectiveness.

But it’s not just individual ‘bad guys’ who are posting these messages of disinformation and fake news, it’s often a whole network of computers (called a botnet), bought or stolen, that drive these campaigns.

What is a ‘botnet?’

These sets of computers act like real users; a ‘bot’ is a social media account run by a computer. A ‘botnet’ is a set of those computers all running social media accounts as if they’re real people, with someone coordinating their activities. These coordinated efforts can make things go viral, raising their visibility, all by fake accounts, and of course, pulling real people in because of their ever-growing reach.

It’s insidious and shows how technology can be manipulated, often because the tech company hosting the site has a conflict of interest in wanting to keep you on the platform as long as possible, no matter the content – see my other blog on this

Finally, let’s include trolls, who are usually (but not always) real people whose intent is to cause conflict by offending others, distracting you from a particular topic and making comments to derail discussions. We have all seen this in politics during news interviews – distraction tactics and attacking someone else to redirect the focus of the interview. The troll is just an online version of this but can have tremendous power because of their ability to get the message out to a set of followers (called reach).

TrueNews will allow viewers to comment, vote and reward news items (Stories, Facts and Evidence), creators will create those news items, and moderators (editors) will review news items before they are published. There’s no room for bots or trolls in this collaboration of creating and consuming news.

So how can we keep bots and trolls out of TrueNews?

Eliminating bots through registration and authentication

First, you have to sign up to use TrueNews, we don’t allow anonymous accounts. You can view the homepage, but can’t do anything else unless you have an account.

Second, the registration process will ask you for some details, to be used for verifying you’re a real person, like a phone number, physical address, etc. By itself, none of that proves that you’re real, but together it helps. And this information is kept under the highest levels of security, as that’s our number one principle, to keep your information safe. All the information about you is kept in a separate identity management system and isn’t even shared with TrueNews unless you want it to be.

Third, you’ll need to set up multiple ways to validate that it’s you when you’re logging in (called multi-factor authentication), through different devices, other device capabilities like facial recognition and authenticator apps (if we deem them secure enough).

Fourth, we’ll have ongoing additional things for you to provide or do, to verify that you’re a real person, such as having another user corroborate that you’re known to them. Or verifying other facts that you provide over time as part of your ongoing profile.

Are you real?

In, everything a person does and says is visible to you, and you have the ability to filter any user’s activity as well. Since all your activity on TrueNew is visible to all users, as is each user’s reputation scores and the things that affected that score. This too will help to root out any nefarious parties that may have found a way in (we aren’t arrogant enough to think we’re perfect, we just strive to be). We’ll use the latest analysis software to help with this.

It’s getting more and more difficult to distinguish between real people and computer software. Some artificial intelligence (AI) can even produce credible blog entries! It’s an arms race in an ongoing war, where we have to keep up with the changes in technology to safeguard our information. TrueNews is part of an ecosystem doing just that, a system and brand we can trust to guard our info as its first duty, and put us in the driver’s seat on controlling our information on the internet.

The TrueNews Difference

When people ask, what can you do that the social media and search giants don’t already do, I answer TrueNews isn’t driven on a business model of driving as much engagement as possible in order to sell advertising. Our first duty is to people, to protect them as they use our products (i.e. TrueNews) and other products in the future – from day one!

I’m guessing that at times you get annoyed like I do, at having to get a text or email to verify who I am when logging in. I know that having my phone get a text is a good way of verifying that it’s me, but I realized that it’s mostly because I don’t trust the company to have that info about me. I know that the company uses the info I provide to gather more data about me without my knowledge. Unacceptable!

That’s why I have the identity management component that’s used by TrueNews. It’s called MeUs Identity, and its sole job is to verify that you are who you say you are. More on that in the future.

TrueNews will keep bots and trolls out, allowing real people to express themselves in safety, so you can be sure that when you see a vote on a fact, or a comment, or a reward, you’ll know that real people just like you contributed.


Kirk Sullivan

Kirk Sullivan