Twitter bots may have been influential enough to sway the 2016 presidential election to Trump, a new economic study says.
According to a paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, automated tweets were responsible for adding 3.23 percentage points to the overall vote total for Trump, reports Bloomberg. The study also found bots added 1.76 points to the pro-"Leave" vote in the Brexit referendum.
“Our results suggest that, given narrow margins of victories in each vote, bots’ effect was likely marginal but possibly large enough to affect the outcomes,” say authors Yuriy Gorodnichenko of the University of California at Berkeley and Tho Pham and Oleksandr Talavera from Swansea University in the UK.
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The researchers found that bots were most effective when their messages reinforced the receiver's previously formed opinions. For example: Trump supporters reacted most to pro-Trump messages. Using a software program, the study authors captured a sample of real-time tweets with bot-like characteristics, including posting an unusually large number of tweets, posting identical messages, and posting in the middle of the night.
To quantify the influence bots had on voting, the researchers looked at the geographic areas that went for Trump or Brexit. Then they calculated how much bots added to the volume of pro-Trump or -Brexit tweets and extrapolated.
In January, Twitter told Congress that Russian bots retweeted Donald Trump almost 470,000 times between September and November 2016 — almost 10 times the number of their retweets for Hillary Clinton. Russian bots were also responsible for 200,000 retweets of WikiLeaks' Twitter account during the same timeframe, the company said. U.S. intelligence sources have determined that WikiLeaks disseminated unflattering Democratic National Committee's emails that were obtained by Russian hackers.
In November 2017, the UK Times reported that 150,000 Russian bots posted 45,000 pro-Brexit messages in 48 hours in an attempt to sway that vote.