A study from England's Oxford University found that automated Twitter accounts, known as "bots," were more numerous for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump than for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
According to the data analysis, Twitter traffic on pro-Trump hashtags was twice as heavy as pro-Clinton hashtags, and 32.7 percent of the pro-Trump traffic was created by bots and “highly automated accounts.” On the Clinton side, 22.3 percent were bots.
“In short, Twitter is much more actively pro-Trump than pro-Clinton and more of the pro-Trump twitter traffic is driven by bots, but a significant number of (human) users still use Twitter for relatively neutral political expression in critical moments,” the study concluded.
The data for the study was taken around the time of the first presidential debate, which was held Sept. 26. The bots may have influenced online polls judging the performances of the two candidates, according to the BBC. The study has yet to be peer reviewed.
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Although both campaigns appear to be benefiting from bots, it's not clear if they are officially behind them.
"We are not looking at the source, who is working on the bots or to what end, merely the metrics of the data," Professor Philip Howard told the BBC.
According to Caroline Sinders, an ex-IBM researcher who now works for BuzzFeed, anybody can write an algorithm and create a bot for their own purposes, including to support the candidate of their choice. But there's also a lot of people with time on their hands to tweet like bots.
"Real people can write a script and use an algorithm to tweet regularly with specific responses, or humans can tweet content that looks almost identical to a series of bots flooding a political hashtag," Sinders told the BBC. "Also, political commentators or people eagerly engaged in the political debate could also tweet this many times.”