Increasingly, social media platforms have become tools for manipulating public opinion during elections. Political actors make use of technological proxies in the form of proprietary algorithms and semi-automated social actors—political bots—in subtle attempts to manipulate public opinion. Through the ERC COMPROP Consolidator award, researchers have demonstrated that even simple bots (i) effectively keep negative messages and fake news in circulation longer, (ii) target journalists and civil society groups, and (iii) operate with little oversight from social media firms. Such bots have negative consequences both for public trust in technology innovation and for the quality of public deliberation in Europe’s democracies. ERC researchers have been able to identify highly automated, politically-manipulative social media accounts post-hoc, and this Proof of Concept project will allow researchers to take what we have learned and produce an online tool that allows the public to evaluate suspicious social media accounts. Most social media platforms are slow to address troll and bot activity, so this innovative tool will put ERC research into public service in Europe and around the world.
Professor Philip Howard, University of Oxford
Funder: European Research Council
Proposal Number: 767454