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The Talk


The Walker family all sat to one side of their circular kitchen room table opposite a twelve-inch tv perched on the counter.  Richard, the patriarch, sat in the middle, his wife Sara sat to his right, and his children an eleven-year-old son Kevin and his fourteen-year-old daughter Rachel were seated on his left in that order.
The kitchen television was on the news and for the moment was only there to set the dinner table ambiance. The attention of the Walker’s themselves was divided between their plates and their phones. Then in a foreboding rhetorical prelude, the news anchor posed the question:
“Bots are they coming or are they already here? Can we stop them or is it already too late? My guest today has some answers to these questions and more. Tony McGrath is a cybersecurity and information specialist he worked for the NSA, has advised on the security policy of many tech giants including Facebook and Google Mr. McGrath could you tell us why experts are saying we are in the midst of the most devastating info plague in history?”
The Walker family slowly and in near perfect tandem moved their eyes to the micro screens in their palms to the screen on the counter and slowly placed their devices down on the table.
“Look, information is the most powerful force in human existence put into the wrongs hands it can destroy people, governments or even nations,” Mr. McGrath explained grimly. “What we see happening now is that information is being weaponized at an alarming rate, and one way this is being done is through malicious bots which can infect your systems and hijack everything.”
The anchor narrowed his eyes, curled his lips, and nodded his head until McGrath was done talking.
“I noticed you used the word infected,” the anchor pointed out. “Is that a reference to your statement calling this threat a plague?”
“Absolutely,” McGrath replied. “In the same way, a living virus works bots that take over online accounts use those platforms to multiply and disseminate in this case to spread harmful and sometimes deadly misinformation. Studies have been done that show that already your average Facebook user has at least 6 friends that have are either bots or are accounts commandeered by bots. Their everywhere all the time. Some of your best friends on your timeline can already be bots, and you wouldn't even know it.” McGrath warned. “There is even some evidence to suggest that the bots are disseminating algorithms based on their host's search history that to infect their minds.”
“You mean they can brainwash people?” asked the astonished anchor.
“In effect yes,” McGrath answered.
“Well this seems pretty serious,” the anchor gasped. “How do people avoid these bots?”
“That can be difficult,” said McGrath “but not hopeless. “First you’ll want to get a first-rate cybersecurity system. I recommend anything from Cobalt Security but more than that it’s important to remember the best way to protect yourself and your family is through diligence in your own online communities. Every social media platform has provided places you can go to report suspicious activities. If we want to contain the bots people are going to have to take action to see the bots are stopped before they can spread their lies.”
Richard reached for the remote and muted the tv. As soon as the moving mouth ceased making noise his eyes drying out in the UV light were able to move again.
“Alright, you heard what they said. Have you guys been careful what you look at on social media?” Richard asked his kids.
Kevin nodded his head. “Yeah, Dad.”
What about your Richard asked his daughter who had already picked her phone back up. She didn’t seem to hear him.
“Rachel,” Richard repeated.
“Yeah Dad,” she said sounding slightly annoyed.
“Well sorry to bother you with my parenting,” Richard sarcastically declared.
Rachel giggled, “Sorry, but we’ve already learned about this in school. I know how to tell when a bot’s posting bullshit.” she smirked.
“Rachel maybe you have another way to phrase that?” Sara said crossly.
“Sorry,” Rachel said again. “What I meant to say is I know how to spot weaponized info now. This weird girl in my AP history class Laura was posting this weird radical right wing far left stuff to the class facebook page, so I told Kylie I thought Laura is probably a bot we all blocked her and told Ms. Vandenberg. It turned out I was right because Laura  got suspended.”
“Good I'm glad you handled that responsibly,” Richard said praising his daughter.
Richard’s eyes turned back to the TV. The commercial break was over he unmuted the show while his wife and children turned their attention back to their phones and the finished the meal in silence.


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