When people ask me why they should use a bot, my answer is simple: Bots are engaging. Land on a webpage and you need to go through the effort of reading the content and figuring out the point. Land on a bot and it will (ideally) tell you exactly what you need to know when you want to know it.
For this reason, it does not take much research to find several articles explaining why marketers should pay attention to bots.
So it comes as a great surprise to me that I have found no political bots.
There are a few bots with a political purpose. A site created by SapientX could play clips from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, although they were not created by the candidates. What I’m talking about is a chatbot that can fill in for a politician during a campaign, answer policy questions, and discuss topics.
Political campaign or a marketing campaign?
The best way I have heard political campaigns described to me are as a combination of a war and an ad campaign. They are like battles in that two opposing sides battle for victory. But at the same time political campaigns are essentially marketing campaigns. Opposing companies try to engage with as many supporters as possible in the hopes that they get more people to back their product, i.e., their candidate.
Living in India, you learn that politicians will do anything to make you think of them. While at the local level it’s largely limited to offline methods like hoardings (what billboards are called in India) and pamphlets, national campaigns go all out. Radio, TV, public speeches, front page newspaper ads, YouTube commercials, giant hoardings, the much-dreaded WhatsApp forwards that your uncles do not stop sending, and constant SMS messaging — the list is endless.
Of late in India, it has become something of a trend to engage supporters through television or radio shows where leaders address their supporters’ questions and concerns. The Prime Minister in India runs a radio show called Mann ki Baat (Talk from the Heart). His political rival and the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, recently started an internet show called “Talk to AK,” which garnered hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and Facebook and had not one but two hashtags (#talktoaktomorrow and #TalkToAK) trending on Twitter for a few days.
I can’t help but think that a natural progression of this trend would be having a political chatbot.
Do we really need one?
As politicians try to engage with potential voters and supporters more meaningfully, a chatbot offers the promise of the ultimate level of engagement. Rather than having a talk show on which only a few supporters could submit their questions, imagine a future in which leaders could talk to everyone via a bot — a virtual AK or Modi who can answer all their constituents’ questions about their political platforms.
Of course the benefits do not flow in one direction. A corollary of an omnipresent political bot is that every citizen has complete access to their leaders and can hold them more accountable. Imagine if you could scream at your local politician every time you saw a pothole or a garbage pile appear near your house. Political accountability would increase significantly. Chatbots will disrupt governance and elections as we know them today.
Bots are a natural progression in our everlasting quest to create a system of government in which politicians are responsive to their voters’ desires and are held accountable for their actions after the frenzy of an election is over.
Inspired by this thought process, I decided to create a political bot. Over the weekend I created a scripted bot that turned Arvind Kejriwal’s platform into a bot.
You can try out the bot here:
Eventually political chatbots could become common, especially since it is often hard for candidates and politicians to engage with voters as often as they would like. A chatbot could easily fill a void — and may one day even help a candidate get elected.