Trump’s Bot Invasion

18 October 2016 | Billy Thompson

In this modern age that we live in, social media is the most popular place to voice our opinions.

It’s also a great platform to see other people’s thoughts on what’s going on in the world. A currently topical example of this is the first Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton that took place on 26th September.

Millions of Twitter users took to social media on the night to air their thoughts on the two controversial candidates. Trump, surprisingly, had almost two million positive tweets directed towards him (I know, I can’t believe it either), whereas Clinton had three times less. 

At social media face value then, it looks as though Trump is more popular amongst Americans (American social media users at least) than Clinton.

Well, if we dig a little deeper, that might not be the case. New research has shown that a large percentage of the tweets posted on the night came from fake accounts.

So let’s get to the stats.

During the debate there were 1.8 million pro-Trump tweets posted and 613,000 pro-Clinton tweets. Research shows that 37.7% of the pro-Trump tweets (576,178) had been posted by fake accounts. So, whilst Trump apparently did do well on social media, a high proportion of those supportive posts were actually false.

So what does this even mean?

Basically many ‘bot’ accounts were created to spam twitter with positive tweets and hashtags about Trump. Some examples of the hashtags are #AmericaFirst, #TeamTrump and #NeverHillary. The bot accounts were posting dozens of times an hour, this resulted in the hashtags trending worldwide on Twitter. This in turn, encourages further engagement, helping to create a cycle of Trump-based positivity.

Many people look towards other people’s opinion before voicing theirs, so if, looking at social media, an undecided US voter thinks a huge number of people are in favour of Trump then that, theoretically, could sway their opinion. “If everyone else is getting behind Trump, why shouldn’t I?”

Of course, there’s also mainstream media to take into account. Post-debate analysis would have revealed that Trump trended more favourably than Clinton, which would no doubt have been reported, again swaying people’s judgement and making them believe that Trump and his controversial views are more popular than they actually are.

This just goes to show how social media can massively influence people’s opinions, even if, as in this case, the source isn’t real. These bot accounts could potentially sway undecided voters, which potentially makes them a powerful tool.

Much like the old saying ‘never trust what you read in the papers’, the same can clearly be said of social media trends.