Based on the number of pro-Trump tweets during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, one would assume Donald Trump’s popularity soared more than polls were indicating.
We know now, though, around half a million of those tweets came from non-human entities known as bots.
A bot–short for robot–is an application that performs automated tasks.
If you have an iPhone and use Siri, you engage with a bot.
If you use Cortana on Windows, you engage with a bot.
Last week, top congressional Democrats demanded Facebook and Twitter scrutinize Russian bots’ and trolls’ presence on their social media platforms.
What they found is concerning.
50,000 automated Russian-linked accounts re-tweeted Trump 10 times more frequently than messages pertaining to Hillary Clinton.
Remember when Wikileaks exposed information gleaned from hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails in the summer before the election?
Turns out, Russian bots were responsible for five percent of all #PodestaEmails tweets.
All told, from September to November 15, 2016, bots tweeted two million election-related messages, according to Twitter.
Facebook said at least $100,000 was spent for this purpose, a mere fraction of its political advertising during the 2016 campaign.
Then in November, the House Intelligence Committee released a sample of Facebook ads the Russian government-affiliated Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg troll farm, purchased about issues like immigration, religion, and race, for and against presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump.
Also included in the release was a document containing every Twitter account handle tied to the troll farm.
More than 11 million people between 2015 and 2017 viewed the ads.
Members of Trump campaign met with Russian operatives in Trump Tower to acquire damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Russia used Facebook ads to help Trump win Michigan and Wisconsin.
Russia used Facebook to exploit our racial and religious divides.
Russia used half a million bots and trolls to infiltrate voters’ preferences.
As former FBI director James Comey asserted during his Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in June:
“We’re talking about a foreign government that using technical intrusion, lots of other methods, tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act. That is a big deal. And people need to recognize it. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. They’re [Russians] coming after America, which I hope we all love equally. They want to undermine our credibility in the face the world. They think that this great experiment of ours is a threat to them. So they’re going to try to run it down and dirty it up as much as possible. That’s what this is about and they will be back. Because we remain — as difficult as we can be with each other — we remain that shining city on the hill. And they don’t like it.”