Bots as Virtual Confederates: Design and Ethics

Peter Krafft, Michael Macy, Sandy Pentland. (2017). Bots as Virtual Confederates: Design and Ethics. The 20th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW).


The use of bots as virtual confederates in online field experiments holds extreme promise as a new methodological tool in computational social science. However, this potential tool comes with inherent ethical challenges. Informed consent can be difficult to obtain in many cases, and the use of confederates necessarily implies the use of deception. In this work we outline a design space for bots as virtual confederates, and we propose a set of guidelines for meeting the status quo for ethical experimentation. We draw upon examples from prior work in the CSCW community and the broader social science literature for illustration. While a handful of prior researchers have used bots in online experimentation, our work is meant to inspire future work in this area and raise awareness of the associated ethical issues.

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