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Trump has been the dominant candidate on Twitter practically since his campaign began, so it’s not surprising to see the republican nominee’s lead in post-debate Twitter sentiment over Hillary Clinton. However, while Trump would likely edge out Clinton in Twitter popularity either way, much of his recent Twitter success may in fact be attributed to swarms of bots, according to a new study.
Helmed by University of Oxford professor Philip Howard, the as yet non-peer reviewed study investigated some 9 million tweets around the first debate (between September 26 and 29), and found that the volume of pro-Trump Twitter traffic was significantly higher than pro-Clinton traffic.
Of that pro-Trump traffic, around 33% came from automated accounts, most likely bots, compared to 22% for pro-Clinton traffic. The report identifies automated accounts as those that are extremely active, posting in excess of 50 times per day.
Despite its thorough methodology, it remains difficult to truly distinguish bots from real people on Twitter, so much of the report’s findings must be taken with a requisite amount of salt. However, the fact that so much highly slanted traffic was generated in such a short time speaks volumes to the impact Trump is having on Twitter, and if this is indeed bot traffic, the implications of “computation propaganda” (as the study calls it) will likely remain one of the most heady debates of the social/digital age.