Alessandro Bessi and Emilio Ferrara, researchers at the University of Southern California, examined 20 million tweets between 16 September and 21 October 2016. They estimate that 400,000 bots were responsible for 3.8 million tweets (19% of the total). They found that Trump’s bot supporters were overwhelmingly positive in support of him and this positive support could “bias the perception of the individuals exposed to it, suggesting that there exists an organic, grassroots support for a given candidate, while in reality it’s all artificially generated.”
Bots were used during the election to create an avalanche of pro-Trump articles. For example, “observers have accused bot-makers of faking Latino support for Trump and rallying robot opposition against Ted Cruz”. Before the US election bots on Twitter were five-to-one in favour of Trump.
Hundreds of websites “were set up to blast out just a few links” to these articles. For example, white supremists were able to get the first response to Trump’s tweets by using bots. Being “the first reply to an account with millions of followers, hundreds of thousands” of those followers will read it. The use of bots can “boost a message”; “in one week in January, nearly two-thirds of Donald Trump's retweets included people who used the hashtag #WhiteGenocide”. White supremacists also "hit Hillary Clinton's account with spurious tweets and misinformation".
Reference: Chris Zappone. ‘Twitter Bots: Donald Trump 'Has Rabies' - and It's Something We Should All Care About.’ Sydney Morning Herald. 19 October 2016.
Hashtags like #Hillaryshealth and #CrookedHillary can be paired with images chosen for their emotional effect rather than any accuracy. Those tweets fill up the feeds of social media users – either fuelling wild suspicion of Clinton or competing for space on social media with fact-based political tweets.
The Twitter account America Right Now is an automated account, a socbot, that posted every ten minutes or so during the US presidential election, in support of Donald Trump. It was one of many. During the first presidential debate, according to Oxford University Professor Philip Howard, more than a third of the pro-Trump internet traffic came from bots and 22 percent of pro-Clinton posts; one in four tweets were from a Twitter bot.
In June 2017 people started noticing that Trump’s twitter following was mysteriously surging, rising by 2.4 million in May, almost a million of them opening new accounts that month, and some observers have attributed a significant part of the increase to bots.
Reference: Craig Timberg. ‘'Something Fishy' About Trump's Twitter Follower Numbers, Researchers Say.’ Sydney Morning Herald. 1 June 2017.
There is a strangely large percentage of Trump's followers — and especially his newest followers — that have only the most rudimentary account information, with no profile picture, few followers and little sign that they have ever tweeted. These are so-called "egg followers" because instead of a profile photo they traditionally carried the image of a blank egg on Twitter account pages… Among accounts that researchers had identified as "highly automated" — meaning likely bots — 81.9 per cent carried at least some messaging supporting Trump…
© 2017 Sharon Beder