Published Online:

In studying how activists use technology to express public dissatisfaction online, we discover that what we assumed to be human protestors were in some cases bots—automated accounts in online social networks. To explicate the discovery of bots, we problematize an implicit assumption of online social network research within Management and Information Systems as it pertains to the concept of actors. Our discovery takes place in the context of a 6-day inductive case study of a protest against government corruption in Brazil—the Mensalão scandal. We elaborate on how bots were detected and discuss how they are coded to amplify the magnitude of the protest on Twitter. Furthermore, we explore the application of bots beyond the context of our study by illustrating how they were used to increase revenue in the business of online dating and to manipulate public opinion during an election campaign. We also discuss how neglecting bots can threaten research validity and, as a result, we provide scholars investigating social phenomena online with a multi-method approach for detecting bots. Finally, we position bot as a crucial actor with implications for organizational theory and practice.

Whiteboard Video Abstract