The Strategist

Political battle in the US set off a war of Internet bots

11/08/2016 - 14:49

Current presidential campaign in the United States may go down in history as the first, which massively used software for dissemination information on social networks. Bots have created a third of Twitter messages on support of Donald Trump, and a fifth of tweets for Hillary Clinton.

Gage Skidmore
Gage Skidmore
Proliferation of digital technologies, mobile Internet, popularity of social networks and other "new media" have resulted in the fact that bot programs became a very popular tool to automatically generate or transfer content associated with candidates of the current presidential campaign in the United States. Douglas Guilbeault, a researcher at Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, noted in an article for The Atlantic that "volume, strategy and potential effect of automated communication are unprecedented during present presidential elections. We have seen a real war of robots."

According to the expert, his team found «political» bots, generating thousands of messages and even collecting real followers, in Twitter. So, pro-Trump @amrightnow account on Twitter has more than 30 thous. subscribers. This twitter bot is dropping mass messages directed against Hillary Clinton. For example, it created or reposted 1200 messages during a recent television debate. Simultaneously @loserDonldTrump account served out about 2 thousand messages against Mr. Trump. "These boats are only a small part of politicized programs that work behind the scenes to manipulate the democratic process", - says Mr. Guilbeault. 

Program-bots and other automated tools to create information flow or cheat popularity are not something new. Back in 2014, pop singer Justin Bieber has lost 3.5 million subscribers in Instagram, when the service administration has decided to clear his account from fake followers. "All of this became possible ever since Facebook began to automatically generate trends in topics without human control, - said Augustine Fou, an independent researcher, in an interview with a specialized resource - Some stories began to fall in trends thanks to bots, not support of real users."

American group of experts in the field of IT, political science and sociology created a special project Political Bots, which analyzes impact of bots programs on public opinion. The project has recorded massive retweets by automatic hashtags associated with the main candidates. For example #makeamericagreatagain (one of the slogans of Donald Trump) or #imwithher (that is, Hillary Clinton). Experts estimate that one-third of the tweets using hashtags pro-Trump hashtags was generated by bots. As for pro-Clinton tweets, its share reaches one-fifth.

Samuel Woolley the Director of Research at Political Bots notes that such a flood of messages is creating artificial background information, which can greatly affect mood in social networks and may be perceived as "real media". As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand what exactly influenced choice of voters - views of real people or the new technology.