Automated diffusion? Bots and their influence during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election

Olga Boichak, Sam Jackson, Jeff Hemsley, Sikana Tanupabrungsun

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemConference contribution

22 Scopus citations


In the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, some candidates used to automated accounts, or bots, to boost their social media presence and followership. Categorizing all automated accounts as “bots” obfuscates the role different types of bots play in the spread of political information in election campaigns. Exploring strategies for automated information diffusion helps scholars understand and model online political behavior. This paper presents an initial effort aimed at understanding the disparate roles of bots in diffusion of political messages on Twitter. Having collected over 300 million tweets from candidates and the public from the U.S. presidential election, we use three OLS regression models to explore the strategic advantages of different types of automated accounts. We approach this by analyzing retweet events, testing a series of hypotheses regarding bots’ influence on the size of retweet events, and the change in candidates’ followers. Next, we develop an estimator to analyze the spread of information across the networks, demonstrating that, while ‘benevolent bots’ serve as overt information aggregators and have an effect on information diffusion, “nefarious bots” act as false amplifiers, covertly mimicking the spread of online information with no effect on diffusion. Making this important distinction allows us to disambiguate the concept of “bots” and reach a more nuanced and detailed understanding of the role of automated accounts in information diffusion in political campaigning online.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTransforming Digital Worlds - 13th International Conference, iConference 2018, Proceedings
EditorsGobinda Chowdhury, Julie McLeod, Val Gillet, Peter Willett
PublisherSpringer Verlag
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)9783319781044
StatePublished - 2018
Event13th International Conference on Transforming Digital Worlds, iConference 2018 - Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: Mar 25 2018Mar 28 2018

Publication series

NameLecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)
Volume10766 LNCS
ISSN (Print)0302-9743
ISSN (Electronic)1611-3349


Other13th International Conference on Transforming Digital Worlds, iConference 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Bots
  • Political elections
  • Social media
  • Twitter
  • Viral events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • General Computer Science


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