On Twitter, a Battle Among Political Bots
The project’s research on the 2016 US Election was featured in the New York Times.
People who head to Twitter to discuss their ideals are, often unwittingly, conversing with legions of bots: accounts preprogrammed to spew the same campaign slogans, insults or conspiracy theories hundreds or thousands of times a day. And one of their most competitive battlegrounds is the prime digital real estate that opens up every time President-elect Donald J. Trump tweets. Any supporters or critics who reply quickly enough to Mr. Trump can see their own tweets showcased right beneath the biggest spectacle on Twitter. But in this fast-draw contest, propaganda bots always best human beings.
Propaganda bots made a powerful showing during Election 2016. Oxford University’s Project on Computational Propaganda found that at times during the campaign, more than a quarter of the tweets colonizing politicized hashtags like #MAGA and #CrookedHillary came from “heavily automated accounts.” In the days leading up to the election, Trump propaganda bots outnumbered Clinton propaganda bots five to one. Since then, bot armies have been programmed to spread conspiracy theoriesabout a made-up Democratic pedophile ring known as Pizzagate. The bots help the topic trend, lend an air of grass-roots momentum and create enough of a mirage of a movement that real people then join in.