The report from Oxford University looked at the effect that social media bots, or automated software posing as real users online, had on the 2016 president election. Researchers aimed to determine whether the bots were actually able to affect the flow of information in what they called “the higher cores,” or the most influential networks of social media.
“The finding was yes, bots did infiltrate these cores and did have a significant influence on digital communication during the 2016 U.S. election,” the study said.
Bots are used to “for spreading disinformation, political attacks and amplified perspectives,” the study said. Research shows that politicians and campaigns have used bots in the United States and abroad in the past, allowing them to “manufacture consensus” and “democratize online propaganda” — meaning their views appear to be supported by a mass of real people.
The study, which was published Monday, was conducted using field work analyzing tweets and posts related to the election from accounts identified as bots starting in February 2016 through the weeks after the November election.