Instalab, a fake online social network to promote the proper use of social media

One of the goals of the Erasmus+ SAILS project is to develop Instalab, a fake online social network that serves as a sandbox to reproduce interesting scenarios that can occur when using social media. Since there are no real people behind the content of this social network, it is possible to safely recreate problematic or potentially dangerous situations in a similar way like they were to occur in real contexts. Instalab’s social bots’ automated behavior is the main feature to achieve this.

Instalab bot adds automated behaviors to any account in this fake social network. For example, we can create an account and assign a bot to follow back all the people who follow that account, or make it follow all the accounts that comment on its posts, etc. Using this type of social bots, we created a small playful learning activity to raise users’ awareness about “perceived familiarity” in social networks: Social Lab. Through a set of staggered challenges, users have to put themselves in the role of a social hacker who wants to gain the trust of several profiles on the network (fortunately, these profiles do not correspond to real users but are all fake accounts managed by social bots). As users take part in this game, they share the perspective of a stranger who would like to look familiar and learn how to identify this type of behavior in a scenario that is closer to reality than a PowerPoint presentation or video commercial.

Social bots are able to respond to almost all social interactions that occur within Instalab. Thus, they monitor when users follow someone, post a post or comment, like, unfollow, comment on a friend’s post, etc. All these events serve as requirements or conditions for performing their actions. Among the actions available to social bots are the publication of posts and comments, sending of private messages or following back other users. By matching these requirements with actions in the different tasks associated with an Instalab bot, it is possible to create quite sophisticated behaviors. Moreover, it is possible to recreate complex social scenarios combining several bots that can lead to hands-on learning about this topic and encourage further discussion.

For all these reasons we consider Instalab a good tool to learn about the use of social media in an environment close to real social media but without the inconveniences associated with interacting with real people while we are learning. We encourage you to try Instalab at http://instalab.deusto.es 😉

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