FEATURE18 August 2022

Behind the bot: Misinformation online

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How influential are bots on social media? Liam Kay looks at a recent study examining the role that bots play in spreading misinformation.

Think back to the morning of 24 June 2016. Many people were in shock, having woken up to the news that the UK had voted to leave the European Union. For them, the result went against all expectations and, in the years afterwards, a reason for the outcome was sought. Some believed bots – automated accounts present on social media sites such as Twitter – were to blame for distorting the vote.

There is a lot of evidence that bots were present in the social media debate surrounding the EU referendum. In 2017, a University of London study by Dr Marco Bastos and Dr Dan Mercea found 13, 500 Twitter accounts were tweeting extensively about the Brexit referendum, only to disappear soon after the vote. The bots had posted 65, 000 messages over a four-week period, which the researchers said were slanted in favour of the leave campaign, albeit with many messages also pro-remain.

Bots have since been observed at other major ...