- Donald Trump has retweeted bots on Twitter hundreds of times.
- He has endorsed or quoted bots both before and after his election.
- More than 14 million of Trump’s followers on the platform are fake.
- A huge network of bot accounts now exists largely to trigger a response from Trump by repeatedly tweeting at him messages they think he will like.
As Twitter continues to investigate the role that Russian bots played in the 2016 US presidential election, it will be interesting to see whether it uncovers any new information about President Trump’s interaction with bots on Twitter.
The company said last week that it discovered 201 accounts on its network linked to Russian agents or bot networks that may have tried to influence the election.
One of the strangest things about the 2016 election was candidate Trump’s habit of retweeting, quoting, or endorsing automated bots on Twitter that were pumping out pro-Trump messages. In the first three months of 2016, Trump retweeted bots 150 times, according to an analysis by SocialPuncher, a Russian social media company. (You can see the details of that analysis here.)
No other candidate retweeted bots.
Trump’s habit of retweeting anyone who agrees with him has led hundreds of people to create automated bots that constantly bombard Trump’s account with automated messages in hopes of triggering a reaction from him.
Here is an example, in which Trump quoted an account named @Gearssuxs:
According to SocialPuncher founder Vlad Shevtsov, @Gearssuxs made an average of 115 pro-Trump tweets per day in a 10-day period in late March 2016, a rate so prolific and single-minded that Shevtsov regards the account as a bot.
Today, the account no longer exists.
Another prolific pro-Trump account, @DrJamesCabot, which tweeted dozens of repetitive pro-Trump messages every day during the election, is now tweeting dozens of repetitive pro-Rolling Stones messages every day — the classic behaviour of a bot account.
The account itself has more than 4 million followers even though its tweets consist largely of the same message over and over again. During the election a vast number of those followers were “eggs” — empty accounts used to auto-retweet bot messages. (The account is monitored by a human who responded to a message before blocking this reporter.)
Trump continued to quote bots after his election, too. In August he shared a tweet from an account purporting to be from “Nicole Mincey,” at the handle @protrump45. But Mincey wasn’t a real person and her account was suspended shortly afterward. The account was part of a network of bots that tweeted pro-Trump messages.
Trump so predictably retweets supportive messages that there is now a group of “serial bot likers” that follow his account. These accounts are automated to instantly like or retweet anything Trump tweets. SocialPuncher illustrated them in this diagram to show how successful they are at crowding out actual human interaction on his account:
What are the chances that this same group of Twitter users always manages to like a new Trump tweet?
It is not clear what the purpose of all these bots is, or whether Trump gains an advantage by having so many bot accounts following him. Bots aren’t votes, after all.
But they do make it look like Trump has more support online than he does in real life. About 14.5 million of Trump’s 40 million followers are fake, according to Twitter Audit.
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