An investigation into Twitter activity during one of the televised US presidential debates has shown that Republican candidate Donald J. Trump’s support was boosted by support from automated ‘bots’.
Although he would still have received more supportive tweets than rival Hillary Clinton (Democrats), four times as many bots endorsed him than they did Clinton. Overall, over 800,000 tweets were made supporting Trump, while Clinton received just short of 200,000.
The draft report, yet to be peer-reviewed, has been produced by Political Bots, a team of experts and researchers, found that 32.7% of pro-Trump tweets originated from automatic accounts, while 22.3% of pro-Clinton ones were from bot accounts. Taking this into account the ‘real’ support for Trump would be around 576,178 tweets, and for Clinton 136,639.
The team includes Philip Howard, Professor of Internet Studies at the Oxford Internet Institute. He said that, “on the balance of probabilities, if you pulled out a heavily automated account the odds are four to one that you’ll find it’s a bot tweeting in favour of Trump.”
This does not mean that either candidate is behind these accounts. “We are not looking at the source, who is working on the bots or to what end, merely the metrics of the data,” Prof. Howard confirmed.
The research also suggested that tweets in favour of Trump are more likely to use multiple hashtags and include links to other pro-Trump information. This suggests that the tweets are ‘more effective’ and keep the hashtags at the fore for longer.
Despite the number of automated accounts, by far the majority of tweets are made by ‘real’ people. People are also more likely seek out and follow ‘real’ accounts. But the steady supply of information offered by both kinds of account help to keep supporters informed and interested.