Study concludes Twitter bots boosting presence of Trump supporters online
Twitter traffic on pro-Trump hashtags was more than twice that of the pro-Clinton hashtags, and about one-third of the pro-Trump twitter traffic was driven by bots and highly automated accounts, the study found
A study released this week shows the effect that automated Twitter accounts are having on the discussion online of the presidential race.
The investigation by Bence Kollanyi of Corvinus University, Philip Howard Oxford University, and Samuel C. Woolley of the University of Washington, looked into the growing use of ‘bots’ to influence the election. Bots are social media accounts that automate tweets and other online discussions.
The study found that about one-third of pro-Donald Trump tweets were driven by bots, compared to one-fifth of pro-Clinton tweets, and that traffic on pro-Trump Twitter hashtags were double that of the pro-Clinton hashtags.
“In short, Twitter is much more actively pro-Trump than pro-Clinton and more of the pro-Trump twitter traffic is driven by bots, but a significant number of (human) users still use Twitter for relatively neutral political expression in critical moments,” the report said.
The study looked at more than 9 million tweets collected between September 26-29 2016, the time period around the first presidential debate. it found that pro-Trump tweets dominated the discussion on Twitter, with 39.1 percent of tweets, 1.76 million overall, were pro-Trump, compared to 13.6 percent being pro-Clinton. The rest were categorized as neutral.
“A fairly consistent proportion of the traffic on these hashtags was generated by highly automated accounts,” the authors said. “These accounts are often bots that see occasional human curation, or they are actively maintained by people who employ scheduling algorithms and other applications for automating social media communication. We define a high level of automation as accounts that post at least 50 times a day, meaning 200 or more tweets on at least one of these hashtags during the data collection period.”
“Extremely active human users might achieve this pace of social activity, especially if they are simply retweeting the content they find in their social media feed. And some bots may be relatively dormant, waiting to be activated and tweeting only occasionally.”
In their conclusion, the authors said that the use of these bots had become “a powerful means of political communication for ‘astroturfing’ movements,” and that in a previous analysis they had found the same use of bots in communications regarding the recent Brexit vote in the UK.
“We find that political bots have a modest but strategic role in the U.S. Presidential debates,” the authors said.
Two years ago Twitter admitted that a large percent of its traffic was from bots, over 8 percent. The company, which is trying to sell itself, said that in 2014 they knew that there were over 20 million fake accounts in existence, a number that has surely grown in the past two years.