Per a new and ongoing by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), so-called twitter bots might just have handed Donald Trump the presidency.
The research released by the nonprofit suggests that automated tweets which touted Donald Trump or attacked Hillary Clinton potentially have accounted for 3.23 percentage points of the vote for president, which is enough to have put Donnald Trump over the top. As we know, Clinton won the popular vote and a very small margin in critical districts could have just put her over the top in some states and affected to deliver the Electoral College victory.
The research also suggests that the twitter bots might have handed Brexit a win by influencing approximately 1.76 percent of the tally.
Yuriy Gorodnichenko from U.C. Berkeley, and Tho Pham and Oleksandr Talavera both of the the U.K.’s Swansea University report: “Our results suggest that, given narrow margins of victories in each vote, bots’ effect was likely marginal but possibly large enough to affect the outcomes.”
That’s right: they find that states that tweet more positively about Trump votes more for Trump and then assumed that this is a causal relationship from tweets to votes to say that bots increases Trump vote share by over 3%. This is absurd and reckless! (8/9)
— Sean Ehrlich (@SeanDEhrlich) May 22, 2018
Both the method and the conclusions reached by this working paper have received criticism. Admittedly, the conclusion drawn is that bots were most effective when they backed up a target’s prior opinion. So Trump supporters tended to react to and retweet messages sent by Trump-favoring bots. The paper also found that tweets with a “high degree of emotionality” reached a wider readership and were more likely to be disseminated.
NBER’s paper is still a work in progress, and it may well be some time before we know the full impact of bots and of overall Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election — or Brexit, for that matter. But what has been clear, regarding both facebook and twitter, is that there were no protections in place to prevent massive disinformation campaigns. The more attention called to that fact, the better for democracy.