Donald Trump supporters seem to think that their candidate has this election in the bag, and that feeling of confidence is largely bolstered by the widespread support Trump seems to have on social media. It’s inarguable, reports Forbes, that Donald Trump has more Twitter followers and Facebook friends. He also seems to get a lot more support from his friends and followers, with millions of pro-Trump tweets bombarding social media during the recent debates.
It’s a fact, Donald Trump appears far more popular among social media users than Hillary Clinton. During the first debate, pro-Trump hashtags made up twice the volume of pro-Clinton hashtags. So how could a guy so well-liked on social media and with so many social media friends and followers possibly be lagging so far behind in the polls? As CNN Money reports, Donald Trump might not be quite as popular on social media as the tweets would have you believe.
In fact, a team of academic scholars led by an Oxford professor discovered that Donald Trump’s supportive social media traffic is, to a large degree, not generated by human Trump supporters at all. A whopping 33 percent of pro-Donald Trump web traffic, it was learned, is driven by bots and/or so-called “highly automated” social media accounts. What does this mean? In a nutshell, Donald Trump has fewer folks in his “basket of deplorables” than obvious social media support suggests.
So what are bots? In the social media sense, a “bot” is an account that is automated and that has the capacity (at least in a very limited sense) to interact with real people on social media. Sometimes called “sock” accounts or “spam” accounts, bots (such as those apparently working to a large degree to support Donald Trump) can sometimes answer simple questions and even provide consumer support, depending on the level of sophistication behind their programming.
In many instances, bots (whether they are supporting Donald Trump or not) also have the capacity to kick out a ton of spam, harass real-life social media users, and even be used for the purposes of intimidation. Kind of scary stuff in an election cycle, especially with many of Donald Trump’s non-bot, real-life supporters threatening violence if their candidate doesn’t win two weeks from now, and especially when Donald Trump’s supporters are largely basing their candidate’s chances of pulling off a White House win on the fact that he’s apparently getting a ton of social media support.
#TrumpDrSeuss— Joseph Jaffa (@JJaffa) October 14, 2016
Smart he's not.
Gets his support
From Twitter bots.
@JamesGleick Keep telling yourself we aren't real. You're in for a rude awakening on November 8th.— Deplorable Whitey ???? (@SheeitDawg) October 23, 2016
In fact, Donald Trump himself is calling the election “rigged,” citing his apparent social media superiority, reports ABC News Go. According to Donald himself, the rigging of the 2016 presidential election can be traced all the way from social media to the highest level of the U.S. government.
“Do you remember what I said, that some of the voting is rigged? OK. Everybody knows. Check out Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis. And [Obama] said, ‘This is a threat to our system. This is terrible. This is a threat.’ This guy is such a phony guy. What a phony. What a phony group.”
We are winning and the press is refusing to report it. Don't let them fool you- get out and vote! #DrainTheSwamp on November 8th!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2016
Major story that the Dems are making up phony polls in order to suppress the the Trump . We are going to WIN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 24, 2016
According to Philip Howard, the Oxford professor who led the research into Donald Trump’s bevy of Trump-loving social media bots, despite the massive number of pro-Trump bots being used to bolster the former reality TV star’s social media presence, Donald Trump does have a lot of legitimate support on social media. In fact, even without the bots factored in, Donald Trump’s social media support far surpasses that of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Even so, some outlets believe that Donald Trump’s debate support may have been increased four-fold by bots. While Donald Trump is arguably a popular guy on Twitter, he’s apparently not nearly popular as he appears to be or as his supporters think he is.
Even so, Hillary is way up in most polls, by as much as 12 percent in some. She’s also smashing the Electoral College maps, reports CNN. Even Fox News is now reporting that Clinton seems to be clinching well more than the required 270 electoral votes she needs for a November 8 victory.
The team that thought up and published the study of Donald Trump and his bots isn’t sure who’s actually behind the bots. It could be Donald Trump, the Trump campaign, or a bunch of random Trump supporters. It could be anyone, but the intent is abundantly clear, and the impacts of the social media bots could be making a profound and reality-skewing impression on the American citizenry. Philip Howard warns readers about taking the things they see and hear on social media too seriously.
“The takeaway is that we should be skeptical about social media. Politicians use bots to influence debate, it’s often a form of negative campaign, because in many cases these bots can be very vicious.”
Just in case you were wondering, Donald Trump isn’t the only candidate who has social media bots working on his behalf. There are pro-Clinton bots doing their thing on social media, too. However, it’s believed that there are 11 percent fewer pro-Clinton bots than there are bots working for Donald Trump. According to Howard and his crew, roughly 22 percent of the pro-Hillary social media posts out there are likely published by bots.
Roughly 9 million tweets (sent out during the recent presidential debates) were reviewed by Howard and his team, leading them to their conclusion that a lot of the pro-Donald Trump support on social media is most likely generated by bots — Twitter accounts which were determined based on an investigation into the activity of the accounts themselves, with a certain telling “suspicious account activity” used to determine which pro-Donald Trump tweets were coming from suspected bot accounts.
What do you think? Is the fact that roughly one-third of Donald Trump’s social media support comes from bots going to change the way you vote? Do you think that Donald Trump’s claims of a rigged election are a fact, or do you believe that (bots or not) this election will be fair and that the results should be respected?
[Featured Image by Andrew Cline/Shutterstock]