If you've used the internet at all in the past few months, you'll probably know that Republican presidential candidate and professional provocateur, Donald Trump, has made more than a few offensive remarks. It is also common knowledge that millennials are less politically engaged than previous generations. That's why a new chat bot, BFF Trump, has arrived to boost young voters' political literacy by offering a civil refresher of sorts through an interactive chat with the infamous TV personality turned politician.
Available for Facebook Messenger, BFF Trump allows you to converse with the spoof mogul—except his answers are no joke at all. The bot pulls from a plethora of cringe-inducing Trump quotes to showcase his outlandish stances on several key electoral issues.
BFF Trump was developed by Dexter, a Betaworks company, in reaction to Dexter's shock over how little politically disengaged millennials actually knew about Trump. Knowing that Generation Y relied on Facebook for political news and spent a significant amount of time in messaging apps, the bot utilizes the familiar platform and format to more effectively reach Millennials. In the earliest stages of the project, the team also noticed a disturbing, growing trend where engagement algorithms (which curate news articles similar to those we typically click on) were reinforcing people's already-held political beliefs.
"Engagement algorithms are increasingly pushing the social audience further apart in their beliefs and values," Claudia Cukrov, Senior Strategist at SS+K, which partnered with Dexter for BFF Trump, told Motherboard. "The more we see what pleases us, the less we're challenged to understand the greater context around our world view and this phenomenon is undoubtedly having a massive impact on the election."
While BFF Trump was built in part to combat the homogenizing effects of engagement algorithms, a topic recently explored by the Wall Street Journal, and to spur an aversion to "The Donald" (the man, if not the subreddit of the same name) within the politically apathetic youth, the bot has not necessarily been greeted with open arms. But that's all part of the plan. BFF Trump fights fire with fire in its adoption of Trump's "all publicity is good publicity" motto in the hope of inciting young Americans to journey to the polls.
"Seeing users swear at something you've put out into the world is typically a red flag for most creators, but for us, it's the rise we're hoping to get out of this audience," said Cukrov. "We've planned for it, with every expletive returning a call to action to get out and vote this November."
Although the folks behind BFF Trump were expecting some negative responses, they were alarmed by the surprising amount of users who confuse the bot with the actual cheeto-dusted man. These blurring lines between technology and reality hint towards an interesting future for political bots.
"From how we've seen users interacting with BFF Trump so far [some actually believe the bot is Trump himself], it's not a stretch to think that soon personalized, intimate chatbot experiences could one day be as influential as digital engagements with trusted peers," said Cukrov.
In many ways, messenger bots lift the veil that divides a public persona and the average Joe. Their intimate nature provides the perfect platform to transmit and receive diverse messages which may otherwise be lost in a stream of personalized, uniformed news articles. Interactive chat bots like BFF Trump may just be the future of political endorsement, or in this case, un-endorsement.
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