A growing number of political movements are employing both people and 'bots' to shape political conversations and influence election results. Bots can deliver news and information but also undertake malicious activities, while passing as human users. Using a sample of 19.4m tweets taken between 1-9 November containing political hashtags like #CrookedHillary or #DraintheSwamp, they show pro-Trump activity increased over the period and was used far more than the pro-Clinton camp, from a ratio of 4:1 during the first debate to 5:1 by the time of election day. Pro-Trump traffic effectively ‘colonised’ pro-Clinton hashtags in tweets that had combinations of neutral and pro-Clinton hashtags, adds the working paper, so by the time of the election, 81% of the highly automated content involved some form of Trump messaging.
The research by Professor Philip Howard from the University of Oxford, with Bence Kollanyi from the University of Corvinus and Samuel Woolley from the University of Washington reveals that Trump supporters’ use of highly automated accounts was ‘deliberate and strategic’. As early as the evening of 8 November, as Donald Trump’s victory became clear, traffic from automated pro-Trump activities suddenly stopped. By contrast, during the debates, the researchers estimate that highly automated accounts generated between 23-27% of the Twitter traffic about the politics relating to the election, dropping to 18% during the lead up to the election.