4 min read

With social media proving itself to be worth an investment and integration at the start of a campaign, there are still a lot of decisions that a campaign will have to make that go beyond a social media policy and strategy. The decisions that go beyond strategy and policy include paid vs organic outreach and whether or not you are going to use bots to help you with your online presence, which recent research has shown can have a meaningful effect even in some of the largest campaigns. Philip Howard, Professor of Internet Studies at the Oxford Internet Institute, comments:

‘We can’t say who was behind the highly automated pro-Trump accounts but they were purposeful, thoughtful and deliberate about when to release messages, what those messages should be, and what their targets were. We found similarities in the rhythm of the pro-Trump Twitter campaign and that successfully employed by the Leave campaign in the run-up to the EU referendum in the UK.1

A USC study has also shown the scale of these bots:

The researchers found that Twitter bot accounts produced 3.8 million tweets or 19 percent of all election tweets for the study’s period. Social bots also accounted for 400,000 of the 2.8 million individual users tweeting about the election, or nearly 15 percent of the population under study.2

The USC study goes further than just the presence of bots and looks at the sentiment of each message:

on a scale ranging from minus 4 (maximum negativity) to plus 4 (maximum positivity), generated by both bot and human tweets during this time. Both human and bot tweets about Trump were almost uniformly positive when compared to those about Clinton, which were equally neutral and positive.2

Even though President-Elect Donald Trump was having a large amount of negative news in print and on television it seems that having a uniformly positive message on Twitter. This helped balance the message that was being driven offline, and in contrast, Hillary Clinton had a twitter army that was a lot more balanced. The difference here can create a stark difference given bits are a large driver of online discussion:

Bots produce content automatically, and therefore at a very fast and continuous rate. That means they form consistent and pervasive parts of the online discussion throughout the campaign. As a result, they were able to build significant influence, collecting large numbers of followers and having their tweets retweeted by thousands of humans.3

The constant presence along with a large number of followers is what gives beats the ability to be empowered by the “illusory truth effect”:

Psychological research, including my own, shows that repeated exposure to false information can change people’s beliefs that is it true. This phenomenon is called the “illusory truth effect.”

This effect happens to us all – including people who know the truth. Our research suggests that even people who knew Pope Francis made no presidential endorsement would be susceptible to believing a “Pope endorses Trump” headline when they had seen it multiple times. 4


While twitter bots have been attributed to having an effect on an election, there still isn’t much data to know if there is any real impact, but thanks to the Python Library Markovbot it is possible to set-up and tries for both local and state-based races. The only things you keep in mind are 1. What kind of bot will do(ie. retweet, post new content, respond other members) 2. what will be your keywords, target string a conversation depth 3. When will it start and stop

If you set the twitter bolt upright and make sure they have a positive and promoting message for the candidate or organization, then it will have the best opponent to have an impact on the election,


  1. http://phys.org/news/2016-12-pro-trump-bot-colonised-pro-clinton-twitter.html
  2. http://news.usc.edu/110565/rigged-usc-study-finds-many-political-tweets-come-from-fake-accounts/
  3. http://phys.org/news/2016-11-twitter-bots-affected-presidential-campaign.html
  4. http://phys.org/news/2016-12-unbelievable-news-true.html