The Use of Bots to Impersonate Humans is a Federal Crime

The use of bot networks to falsely represent user accounts on Social Media, and act as human beings to spread information through said networks to influence public opinion, is a cybercrime.

Not should be a crime, this action is a crime under current Federal statutes.

This, an army of bots on Twitter with direct connection to millions of impressionable humans, isn’t some silly trolling metajoke. Support of this action is punishable by 5-20 years in prison and substantial penalties.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse act of 1984 reveals a couple of clauses that seem to cover the current use of bots to influence elections, pump up review sites, and anytime a bot is being used to act as a human being in a malicious way:

(4)
knowingly and with intent to defraud, accesses a protected computerwithout authorization, or exceeds authorized access, and by means of such conduct furthers the intended fraud and obtains anything of value, unless the object of the fraud and the thing obtained consists only of the use of thecomputer and the value of such use is not more than $5,000 in any 1-year period;

The thing of value here we are being defrauded? Our attentions. Our votes. Our sense of right and wrong, the truth. And yes, our money, when we buy a crap item promoted through fake reviews, news, and presidents.

These bots are pretending to be human users, which means they fit into the clause of

or exceeds authorized access

What computers have been violated? Well, not only the userbase and servers of the Social Media sites. The computer you are holding in your hands or starting at has been accessed by someone pretending to be human, sending you a message. The glowing piece of plastic that gives us all the info we read, that computer has been breeched.

All you need to argue is that a bot, pretending to be a human, can influence people to do bad things. Then it is a weapon. And infoweapons need to be controlled, and last I checked, the Government is the only entity who can or will do it.

Asking Social media companies to patrol themselves for bots is like asking the fox to pick the nits off the chickens. Impersonating a human with a bot isn’t just a violation of terms and conditions. If it influences us with information, and if that misinformation causes harm, then that bot was a tool that, through fraud, harmed me.

And the Government’s most important role, really, is to protect us by enforcing the laws.

So here is what I say: Federal Government, enforce the existing laws. Bots that impersonate humans are a violation of the The Computer Fraud and Abuse act of 1984. The bots, and the humans who take money to run them, and the people who pay those people, and the Social Media sites that allow then, cause quantifiable harm to US citizens. These fraudulent humans operate across state lines, and are well within your jurisdiction to control.

And what about Facebook, and Twitter, and all these poor Social Media companies? Interestingly, this existing law also covers people who enable such acts:

(b)

Whoever conspires to commit or attempts to commit an offenseunder subsection (a) of this section shall be punished as provided in subsection (c) of this section.

So if they know fake humans exist on their systems, and do not take action to remove them, they are culpable also.

If one owns a bar and is aware of criminal activities happening in booth 5, and does nothing or even sends them a round or two on the house, one is engaged in a criminal conspiracy with the folks in Booth 5. If the crime committed is across state lines, it is a Federal crime.

Or as a former Federal Agent pointed out to me, we also have this:

CRIMINAL FACILITATION IN THE FOURTH DEGREE (Facilitation of a felony)
Penal Law § 115.00 (1)
(Committed on or after Sept. 1, 1978)
The (specify) count is Criminal Facilitation in the Fourth Degree.
Under our law, a person is guilty of Criminal Facilitation in the Fourth Degree when, believing it probable that he or she is rendering aid to a person who intends to commit a crime, he or she engages in conduct1 which provides such person with means or opportunity for the commission thereof and which in fact aids such person to commit a felony.

This is what Facebook is doing, letting booth 5 run the joint. And they could solve this problem by confirming identity and tagging all unconfirmed entities as potential bots. They could solve their culpability with a feature that would take no more than a month to implement. But they don’t. Funny how that works, eh?

If a website is designed for humans, by definition a bot has exceeded authorized access by pretending to be one. The access they are getting isn’t just to the site, it’s also to my computer, since their misinformation spreads there.

We don’t need to pass a law. We just need to enforce our existing ones against computer fraud.

There are those who will say that enforcing this law will destroy an entire industry. It will change it, in a positive way. It is an industry built on lies and fraud, and those who profit from it have been given plausible deniability for far too long.

Render by Mike Winkelmann

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