Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am beginning to collect some thoughts and materials for a project around the topic “Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age”. The goal of the exercise would be to investigate how new digital technologies change the process of cultural transmission and evolution, using methodological tools and ideas from cultural evolution theory (intended in a quite broad sense).

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Echo chambers

[I am starting to gather more systematically thoughts and materials about the topic “Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age”, including a twitter hashtag #CulturalEvolutionInTheDigitalAge where I plan to collect some recent – and less recent – papers, articles, discussions, etc. I hope to write at some point a more thorough introduction to this project. For now, here some extemporaneous reflections on the echo chambers phenomenon]

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Meet @CultEvoBot, my first Twitterbot

cultevobot

In the last few days, for independent reasons (i) I was told the Horse_ebooks story (in short, an “artistic” project where humans pretended to be a Twitterbot and gained around 200K followers – but if you don’t know anything about it please read the Wikipedia page and the links cited in the References there, it is quite interesting), (ii) I stumbled upon this page with a few example of Twitterbots worth to follow (at least according to digitaltrends.com), and, finally (iii) I was pointed to this NYTimes article (from August 2013) on social-bots (claiming, among other things, that only 35% of twitter users are humans). This seemed enough to me to try and see how difficult was to set up a Twitterbot.

A Twitterbot is a program that produces automated posts via Twitter (surprise!). In my case, @CultEvoBot is a short python script that every hour – when my laptop is on – uses google news search or google blogs search (after having flipped a coin to decide) and search there for “cultural evolution”. It then goes trough the links proposed and, if one is not in its log file of past links, posts it in twitter with the title provided by google (and adds it in its log file). That’s all (it also follows its followers, which is completely useless at the moment – among other things because I am the only follower – but might be useful in the future).

So basically, @CultEvoBot does not do much more than providing links to potentially interesting sources, still I am pretty satisfied of the result. Programming a Twitterbot – also with more elaborate functions (like answering to specific users or posts, re-tweeting, etc.) – seems quite straightforward, and I can imagine that I will be able to use them in the future for scientific (or artsy) projects, even though at the moment I don’t have any specific idea (suggestions welcome).