I happened upon Hillary Clinton's latest Twitter missive today and was flabbergasted by the size of the response chain, over eleven thousand responses at the time. What was more staggering was how many of the responses appeared to be from agenda-driving bots/botnets, spewing the most awful sort of nonsense, Pizzagate-level idiocy at an inhuman velocity. Botnets are a serious problem, and online platforms like Twitter are aiding and abetting massive propaganda operations that are moving political needles all over the world.
The Oxford Internet Institute has great reports on these operations, their mechanics, their effects, and methods for tracking the bots and botnets:
Most concerning is the fact that companies and campaigners continue to conveniently undersell the effects of bots. The quantitative analysis of this working paper aims to partially settle the question of bot influence so that we can begin to address the realities of bot manipulation more directly. Bots infiltrated the core of the political discussion over Twitter, where they were capable of disseminating propaganda at mass-scale. Bots also reached positions of high betweenness centrality, where they played a powerful role in determining the flow of information among users. Several independent analyses show that bots supported Trump much more than Clinton, enabling him to more effectively set the agenda. Our qualitative report provides strong reasons to believe that Twitter was critical for Trump’s success. Taken altogether, our mixed methods approach points to the possibility that bots were a key player in allowing social media activity to influence the election in Trump’s favour. Our qualitative analysis situates these results in their broader political context, where it is unknown exactly who is responsible for bot manipulation – Russian hackers, rogue campaigners, everyday citizens, or some complex conspiracy among these potential actors. Samuel C. Woolley & Douglas Guilbeault, “Computational Propaganda in the United States of America: Manufacturing Consensus Online.” Samuel Woolley and Philip N. Howard, Eds. Working Paper 2017.5. Oxford, UK: Project on Computational Propaganda. comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk<http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/>. 27 pp.