As the war for hearts and minds and votes entered the final battle, it was no time for partisans to relent. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her team email blasted and tweeted and canvased and threw an enormous rally and filled the airwaves with ads. Republican candidate Donald Trump and his team tweeted and threw rallies and tweeted some more. And the people? Well, they clashed on Facebook, in line at the grocery store, and on Twitter (did we mention Twitter?).
“It’s 7:10 PM EST in Washington DC and Donald Trump is still a major threat to the free world,” one clearly pro-Hillary Twitter user tweeted. “And he still has small hands. #DumpTrump”
“#TrumpWinsBecause the American people are too smart to fall for lies anymore,” Marie retweeted someone else named Halley.
But it was on Twitter where something was afoot. You see, humans weren’t the only ones fighting. Those quotes above? They were almost definitely written by bots (and in Marie and Halley’s case, a bot that retweeted another bot). So much of the traffic on the social network is already generated by automated bots, and that’s even truer for political topics in this crazy election season. A third of pro-Trump tweets and about a fifth of pro-Clinton tweets between the first and second debates, for instance, came from bot accounts, which produced more than 1 million tweets in total, according to research from Oxford University. Yes, not all these bots are the same: some are individual operators that try to raise awareness around important issues; others are networks that tweet the same exact thing from different accounts; still others tweet the same hashtags over and over again. (These last two qualify as spam and are likely to be taken down when reported to Twitter.)
Wired‘s Davey Alba explains how election bots work, their impact on the campaign trail, and the role they will play on Election Day.