How convincing is your bot?

The US election saw the most pervasive use of online imposter bots to date. Having conversations with people, colonizing supports of the other camp and using innate messages to try and gaslight the other campaign as well as spreading “fake news” (aka propaganda) in a way that tricks the social engines to trend their own #’s at will.

Yes, the 2016 election was a fun filled romp that requires closer examination. While that is happening, you can watch my research film that take a summary view of exactly what we know and what we don’t about bot used during the 2016 election.

This is a topic that will be more intriguing and have more data available in three to five years.

Project Reflection

Life always has a habit of getting in the way. After a fantastic semester, in week thirteen my father’s illness escalated. I dropped everything and travelled to Tennessee to be by his side. My father subsequently died. When I returned to Australia, my head was far away from my original work, ideas and zone, but I still had to finish the work.

The trip to America was interesting in relation to the work that we covered in this topic. Many of the people that I spoke with were very interested in what people other places thought of their country now that Donald Trump had been elected. They were aware of the echo chamber that they live in, and were eager to hear something else. This was a contrast to every other time I have been back to Tennessee.

As flagged to my tutor, the amount of empirical data available on this topic is virtually non-existent due to the recent nature bot technology. There are several large-scale studies underway on the real impact of bots during the 2016 election in the USA and their impact. At present, there is only some initial data and a lot of theories on projected impacts published in mainstream press and not in peer-reviewed journal articles. The impact of media framing and proliferation of fake news that is seeded by internet propaganda is possibly going to have larger impact as cable news remains the source that people trust most according to recent studies. This issue is still worth being aware of, as it is an emerging issue.

As to the behind the scenes experience of this project: basically, I am familiar with Finalcut Pro, so I used the software to cut the film together. Instantly I appreciated how much time is needed to construct a project in this medium. Initially my intention was to use animated graphics, but I very quickly ran into software issues as my internet had been cut off while I was overseas and my software required another program to animate. So, I employed my phone hotspot and whatever existing software was on my computer. The piece could be cut down and simplified to be less wordy, but at this stage, I feel that it meets the aims of the project sufficiently.

I used my Canon DSLR with top mount microphone to record in my house, preferably while the children were at school. Music was sourced under creative commons from Jamendo except for the Popcorn tracks. Much of the quick cut footage was taken from Google images and from and are credited as much as possible. There were quotations from whatever credible sources I could find that were relevant. I do not credit Cambridge Analytica with being a credible source, but it is relevant to the discussion of technology and the marketplace, so it was included.

Time and life was a barrier to getting this project completed. But, the large amount of reading that I have done on the subject allowed me to move forward. Planning is always of the essence with these projects, but in the end this time, it was all about me just getting something together that explained my topic with relevance, clarity and balance.

Film References:

Behrend, TS 2017, ‘From the Editor: Player piano’, TIP The Industrial Organizational Psychologist, 1 April, p.1

Bessi, A & Ferrara, E 2016, ‘Social bots distort the 2016 U.S. Presidential election online discussion’, First Monday, vol.21, no.11, 7 November 2, viewed 12 May 2017,

Greenwood, S, Perrin, A & Duggan, M 2016, ‘Facebook remains the most popular social media platform’, Social Media Update 2016, Pew Research Centre, 11 Nov, Viewed 20 July 2017, <>

Greenwood, S, Perrin, A & Duggan, M 2016, ‘Almost half of those who learn about the presidential election get news& information from five or more source types’, Social Media Update 2016, Pew Research Centre, 11 Nov, Viewed 20 July 2017, <;

Hess, A 2016, ‘Bots at war for your soul: [the arts/cultural desk]’, New York Times, 15 December, New York

Howard, P, Woolley, S 2016, ‘Twitterbots united: Fake followers could wreck the election’, Alpha, May, pp. 17-18

Larsson, AO, Moe, H 2015, ‘Bots or journalists? News sharing on Twitter’, De Gruyter Mouton, vol.40, no.3, pp.361-370

Jordan, M 2016, ‘In a post-truth election, clicks trump facts’, The Conversation, 26 October,  viewed 4 May 2017

Murthy, D, Powell, AB, Tinati, R, Anstead, N, Carr, L, Halford, SJ, Weal, M 2016, ‘Bots and Political Influence’, International Journal of Communication, vol.10, pp.4952-4971

Nix, Alexander 2016, ‘The power of big data and psychographics’, Concordia, 27 September, viewed 21 July 2017, <;

Samuel, A 2015, ‘How bots took over Twitter’, Harvard Business Review, 19 June, pp.2-5

Wells, C, Shah, DV, Pevehouse, JY, Pelled, A, Boehm, F, Lukito, J, Ghoush, S & Schmidt, JL 2016, ‘How Trump drove coverage to the nomination: Hybrid media campaigning’, Political Communication, vol.33, no.4, pp.669-676

Woolley, S 2016, ‘Resource for understanding political bots’, The Computational Propaganda Project, Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University, 18 November, viewed 5 May 2017,

‘Types of bot: an overview’,, 27 July 2016, viewed 20 July, 2017, <>

Images used: Donald Trump sourced from Business Week, CNN, Trump Hotels, Miss Universe, New York Times, Patriot Nation, Twitter @realDonaldTrump, CNN Money, Computational Propaganda Research Project, Federal Register Executive Order, MSNBC

Film Exerpts

Comedy Central 2016, South Park, Comedy Central, episode 20

NBC 2008, The Apprentice, NBC

Rueger, T & Spielberg, S 1993, Pinky and the Brain, Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Speilberg, S 2002, Minority Report, Dreamworks & 20th Century Fox

Wendcos, P 1959, Gidget, Columbia Pictures


Hot Butter 1972, Popcorn, online, Musicor

Davis, B 1960, Too pooped to pop, online, Chess

Grimsley, J 1986, Sale of the Century Theme

Pavan, Paolo 2015, Open the Source

Sanderson, J 1769, Hail to the Chief, US Army Ceremonial Band


Disclaimer: All film used in this project is under section 248B of the Copyright Act 1968 Australian Commonwealth Government for educational purposes only. No profit will be made from this film project. All un-licenced music is used under creative commons and will not be used to any financial benefit of the films creator.








From Sausages to the Poor

Poor child stairsAfter a day selling sausages at my children’s primary school, I smell like fat and meat, and bear little resemblance to the sassy chick who a few short years ago, was strutting podiums in short-shorts in the nightclubs that then hummed with an electronic heartbeat, but now lay boarded up, dark and silent. It’s a cycle.

For the last few months I have been completing my small research project into child poverty. As it’s such a broad topic and I am one person with so little time, I narrowed my focus. The project focused how child poverty effected  future employment and earning outcomes.

There were many epiphical  moments as my own family history started to reveal the logic of its bones. Born into an Irish-catholic Australian family, my mother is the eldest of nine. They were poor. They are working-poor. In my mother’s generation the family has met with low to middle class financial gains, but has yet to break through any real class or financial ceiling. Being the curious soul that I am, my question was how much of this barrier was the residue of growing up poor? Turns out the connection is solid and well documented over time. Most interesting to me is the neuroscientific angle that speaks of how brain development is affected by poor parental relationships in the 0-5yr range.

I have detailed my findings in my report titled ‘A Poor Excuse’.
Poverty research report FINAL
Intending to write more about my findings I thought I’ll just put the report up here for your perusal. And talk about it when it’s not 12am and I’ve had a shower to de-sausage myself from a very busy election day BBQ.

So What. Now What?

occupation-jpeg-860x860_q85_upscaleSo, whilst using the bathroom about 30 minutes ago (too much information, I understand), my beige vision of the cubicle door was interrupted by a wordy poster asking for participants for a research project.  It’s not unusual to find such a poster in a university campus cubicle, I guess they figure they have a captive audience. Due to a recent discussion re: ethics and methodologies around research, this one caught my eye.

According to to the poster, the research team (with ethics approval) are studying dietary habits and will require you to take a 30-45 minute questionnaire and an interview of the same length.  There was no reward or outcome stated, no clue as to what the research could be used for. So as far as I know it could be used to improve the lifestyle and eating habits for the good of all mankind OR it could be used to give McDonalds a new angle for marketing their latest an greatest to an unsuspecting population, already plagued with obesity and other malnutrition related disease. Unmoved to record the details of the project I politely flushed and went on my way.

This happy accident (I’m referring to seeing the poster) came immediately after my finishing ABC’s Four Corners documentary Growing Up Poor.  I had never seen the documentary but, as a resident of Campbelltown LGA, I have sat in courses with women from the community of Claymore NSW, the area which was the topic of the documentary.  These women over the years, have spoken at length about the media coverage that their area has received, and how they felt that it had added to their struggle as well as to their children’s perception of their own disadvantage. And was not a balanced portrayal of their community.

2015-09-17 11.11.27-2Both these encounters have made me think hard about the liberties that we as researchers and journalists take with other peoples time and/or lives. Sometimes quite irresponsibly not taking into account the value of other peoples time. And the possible fall out into the lives of people, not only those we are engaging with but the wider community. A ripple effect if you please, that may not be what was intended, but never the less is coke bottle that we leave behind for someone else to swallow.

It should be a matter of vigilance and consciousness of those who dare to act on another’s behalf without be asked by the party being acted upon. Let us not forget all those children seized from their parents across the world. The stolen generations who were ‘better off’ not being left with their indigenous community. So much of what we do including small projects on weight gain, are birthed through the eye glass of privilege and/or power. Isn’t it time that we put down the eye glass and just sat together in the grass with our shoes off, ready to listen and grow?


The Anvil of Socio-Economics

I wished for things but instead got anvil dropped on my head by Craig Freeman 2013

My family is brilliant.  I say that without vanity or ego. I am speaking of my mother’s family who are placed quite firmly in the middle of my research proposal. This is not out of any misguided sense of pride, as many don’t speak to each other or to me. They are quite simply intellectually brilliant.  My mother is the eldest of nine children, herself a teacher; among the rest are an engineer; a nurse; a policeman; an accountant; a scientist; a priest, a finance executive and an electrician.  All of them grew up poor and today none of them are wealthy by Australian standards.  They have never been able to translate their superior intellect to financial success.  When I questioned my uncle today at Easter lunch, his thoughtful answer cited factors such as a lack of confidence and ‘that we just don’t speak their language’.  These are very loose but valid ideas. What happens when we push the idea further?  Is the inability to break through the ‘glass ceiling’ of financial success after being raised in poverty, an Australian experience? The idea inspired me to look further into, how influential is childhood poverty as a predictor of future financial success?

When looking at child poverty and its effect on upward mobility the research would have to establish a benchmark of what is classified poverty.  The Australian Bureau of Statistics discusses how the first systematic approach to classifying poverty was the Hendersen Poverty Line.  The Hendersen Line was created in the mid 1960’s by a group of researchers at the Institute for Applied Economic and Social research at Melbourne University. (ABS) (1996) Classifying poverty is always problematic due to the number of variables, such as cost of living.  As well as what the ‘normal’ standard of living is in a specific country. Hendersen scale is also created using a two adult, two child model with a fixed weekly income plus benefits (ABS) (1996) which is not necessarily relevant in a world where this family model does not form an unwavering majority.  So for the purposes of the proposed research report I will be using the Index of Socioeconomic Disadvantage as referred to by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. (ABS)(2006)

As we are bound by the rules of research as students of the University of Wollongong, I would be unable to engage in any methods for data collection such as surveys or focus groups.  My research on this matter will rely on a range of published papers for my research as well as data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations.  The United Nations formalised their interest in the children of developed countries in their Innocenti Report Card in the year 2000.  It gives an analysis of child poverty across industrialised nations.(UNICEF) (2000)


Image from photographer unknown

A great deal of academic research has been done on the topic of child poverty and it’s effects, from other countries such as the USA and the United Kingdom. In both cases the population is larger than Australia and the conditions will differ.  The positive side of using research from similarly industrialised countries of this size, is that the data is from a larger sample, and therefore possibly has a higher degree of accuracy, depending how the study was constructed. These papers are useful in gaining insight into the upward mobility of children who have grown up in poverty. An example of these papers are Childhood and Intergenerational Poverty: The Long-Term Consequences of Growing Up Poor by Robert Lee Wagmiller and Robert M Adelman published in 2009 for the National Center for Children in Poverty.

For my research I do intend to narrow my field to Australia or New South Wales.  As I am not a quantitative researcher, the research will be reliant on conclusions drawn by the Department of Housing NSW (FACS – Housing) and the Department of Community Services (FACS) which used Census information for the Bureau of Statistics for their data.  An example of this is the FACS Policy Research Paper No.20 , Child Poverty: a review.  This policy research document says in chapter 2.1 Does money matter for children’s outcomes?  ‘there is ample evidence that shows a strong association between childhood living standards and later outcomes,’. (FACS) (2003) The report goes on to explore the evidence regarding how influential is childhood poverty as a predictor of future financial success.

As I have personal connections inside of the Benevolent Society and Junctions Works, two local Non-Government Organisations. I will also try to see if these organisations who work within the welfare field gather any alternate insight and data about how influential childhood poverty in in predicting future financial success and if so, where I can access their data or the data that is used for their strategic models of tackling childhood poverty, and a clear answer to why they consider it a priority.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 1996, Poverty and Deprivation in Australia 1996, cat. no.1301.0
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2006, Information Paper: An Introduction to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), 2006, cat.2039.0
United Nations Childrens Emergency Fund (UNICEF) 2000, ‘A League Table of Child Poverty in Rich Nations’, Innocenti Report Card,2000, no. 1
Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) 2006, Child Poverty: a Review, Policy Research Paper No.20
Robert Lee Wagmiller, Robert M. Adelman 2009, ‘Childhood and Intergenerational Poverty: The Long-Term Consequences of Growing Up Poor’, Columbia University Academic Commons,
Freeman, Craig 2013, Image of I Wished for Things but Got Instead, an Anvil dropped Upon My Head Mr Fakie 3 February, view 27 March 2016, <;.


The Freedom to Question

Back for another serving of analysing with a licence, my 2016 university year has begun. Fresh from the world of breaking up fights between my 9 and 6 year old girls, and scrubbing the unfinished polished wood of my former abode in the most ferocious bond clean since G.I. Jane held a toothbrush, I am plunging into the world of research and enquiry for BCM210: Research Practices in Media and Communication.

Our first task is to ponder what curiosity has meant in my life.  So here I go…


Curiosity to me is the right to question the world in which I live.  It’s the itch at the base of my spine that is not accepting what I see or hear as the only truth, demanding more information so that it may be satisfied.  Really I think I’m just looking for tangible proof of my own knowing. As we as inquire and start drawing lines around what is and what isn’t in the world, our identity changes and sharpens in a way that impacts how we move in the world as individuals, as a community and by extension as the human race.

In my younger life, curiosity got me into a lot of trouble,  apparently it was not acceptable for a bi-racial child, in an Irish-Australian Catholic family, to question their way of life or the religion that they had been heaped with at birth. This type of action was sacrilegious at best and saw me reddened with the back of a wooden spoon.  My Mother still says of me,”I never understood how young child could spend hours in those museums or art galleries, I was bored.” I held the same opinion then that I do now; if the knowledge, idea or experience that you hold so dear is true, I should be able to ask as many questions as I like, and my research will bring me back to your position.

In other countries such as North Korea or China as well as many of the smaller nations of the former USSR and Central America, curiosity is discouraged in matters of state, with many citizens who dare to question, particularly those in the media, finding themselves in jail or dead.

It is with some gratitude then that we undertake this subject where we take our very human tendency to be curious about our world and use it to inspire us as students to find methodology to create a practice of research that is effective, in depth and with a smaller chance of error.


In her lecture Kate Bowles outlined research as ‘a way to persuade’. There also were a lot of terms such as ‘Qualitative Research’ and ‘Quantitative Research’, ‘Ontology’ and ‘Epistemology’.  Proud as I am to add new terms to my vocabulary, these words will still take some time to be imbued with the meaning I’m sure they deserve.  My very exhausted brain wasn’t accepting any updates last week, but I look forward to rewarding my now refreshed curious self with lots of cool stuff that is new to me.