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Windmills in cyberspace

Peter Buell Hirsch (Department of Communication Studies, Baruch College, New York, New York, USA and Global Consulting Partner, OgilvyRED, USA)

Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Article publication date: 15 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to stimulate an urgent dialogue about the impact of automated opinion engines (“bots”) on the functioning of public institutions in democratic societies. While the use of political bots may or may not have influenced the recent US presidential election or the UK “Brexit” referendum, it is believed that the implications of the use of political bots are more broadly troubling. There is an urgent need for common standards to prevent the abuse of these powerful digital tools.


The paper is based on a review of recent pieces describing political bots and attempts to extrapolate our learnings from recent political campaigns to the broader context of the discussion of all public issues.


It was found that the use of political bots has a powerful ability to manipulate public opinion and could easily infect the totality of public discourse.

Research limitations/implications

The core data on which the author’s discussion is based are limited to primary research by a small number of data scientists. This pool needs to be significantly expanded.

Practical implications

The insights the author proposes should serve to stimulate an organized effort to develop common standards for the use of and to prevent the abuse of these automated opinion tools.

Social implications

Unless an effort along these lines is made, distrust in all democratic and transparent institutions is highly likely to decrease.


While much has been written about bots in politics, the author believes that this is the first attempt to trace the dangers of bots across a much broader set of community institutions.



Hirsch, P.B. (2017), "Windmills in cyberspace", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 38 No. 3, pp. 48-51.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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