Software robots, originating from botnets, are making a huge impact on the internet throughout the entire election season.
Unsurprisingly enough, researchers have dug up evidence of how social bots influenced the election.
According to Emilio Ferrara, computer scientist, and lead researcher, about one-fifth of the entire election conversation on Twitter was generated by a software bot.
Ferrara and co-author Alessandro Bessi, a visiting research assistant at USC’s ISI, made a huge discovery indicating that a significant amount of political discussion on Twitter was initiated by pro-Donald Trump and pro-Hillary Clinton social bots, with the purpose of distorting online conversation.
In the study, researchers analyzed 20 million tweets created between Sept. 16 and Oct 21., all associated with the US election.
What researchers found was that robots produced over 3.8 million tweets, or 19 percent of the social conversation on Twitter, according to the Daily Dot.
On top of that, researchers also revealed that social bots were responsible for 400,000 of the 2.8 million users on the social platform, which translates to almost 15 percent of the population in the study.
In the journal First Monday, a paper was published titled, “Social Bots Distort the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Online Discussion.”
“The presence of these bots can affect the dynamics of the political discussion in three tangible ways,” the paper reads.
The paper continues by saying: “First, influence can be redistributed across suspicious accounts that may be operated with malicious purposes. Second, the political conversation can become further polarized. Third, spreading of misinformation and unverified information can be enhanced.”
Furthermore, Trump’s bot tweets were almost entirely of self-promotion and positive commentary, boosting his popularity.
When looking at Clinton’s commentary, only half of them were positive, with the other half slamming the nominee, according to researchers.
It was also noted that South Carolina produced the fakest campaign-related tweets.
Moreover, the engineering behind these Twitter bots is complicated. Although it’s used by politicians and government agencies, the “master puppeteers” who create these bots are unknown.
It is said that Russian and Indian black hat online marketers produce these Twitter bots to generate income.
These bots, which are often created on Facebook and Instagram as well, use identical names, biography, and even profile pictures as real users on the social platform.
The accounts are also able to retweet, share content, comment, and even engage in human-like discussions on Twitter.
Donald Trump’s Twitter following has been called out for having an inordinate amount of fake bot accounts in the past.
Nick Bilton reporting for Vanity Fair, dived into Trump’s fake Twitter following and said most of his followers are nothing more than bots.
“But if you really want to see fake, you have to look at all the accounts that retweet Trump.”
“If you go back through his timeline, you will see that at around the same time last year, Trump was averaging just a few dozen retweets a day on a typical tweet, and 100 to 200 likes on a tweet,” Bilton wrote.
As Bilton noted, looking at an account’s sharing ratio can determine whether or not that user is buying fake bot followers.
Bilton says that the next time Trump boasts about his Twitter following, don’t be too proud of his success.
“So next time he sends a note saying, “Thank you! 22.4+ million followers!” know that half of the people he is talking about are just figments of Donald Trump’s imagination. Perhaps that is fitting amid an election cycle that only he could have dreamed up.”