How Bots, Twitter, and Hackers Pushed Trump to the Finish Line
The project’s research on the 2016 US election was covered in Wiired.
Following the third debate, automated pro-Trump accounts on Twitter pumped out seven times more messages than pro-Clinton accounts. Most of these accounts, it turned out, were powered by chatbots: the newest tool in computational propaganda. “It’s definitely one of the most significant digital aspects of this campaign season,” says Samuel Woolley, a researcher with the Political Bots Project.
Bots began their social media careers as a way to artificially increase a candidate’s follower count. In 2011, for example, Gawker reported that as many as 80 percent of Newt Gingrich’s 1.3 million Twitter followers were fake. This year, bots grew in prominence and numbers, with about 400,000of them tweeting out hashtagged messages for and against Trump and Clinton. They are the new robocalls, influencing and persuading voters in their Twitter timelines.
These automated social media bot accounts are created by people familiar with Twitter’s API. Individual bots are then organized into larger collections called botnets to send out propaganda for political users or groups. It’s a trend researchers say is bound to stick around unless social media companies start moderating politically oriented content. “Bots will continue to be used in more sophisticated ways by people to game the polls that go on online, to stretch the limits of truth, to circulate fake stories,” Woolley says.