Fake It ‘Til You Make It: A Natural Experiment to Identify European Politicians’ Benefit from Twitter Bots
By Bruno Castanho Silva and Sven-Oliver Proksch, University of Cologne
Social media giants stand accused of facilitating illegitimate interference with democratic political processes around the world. Part of this problem are malicious bots: automated fake accounts passing as humans. However, we lack a systematic understanding of which politicians benefit most from them. We tackle this question by leveraging a Twitter purge of malicious bots in July 2018 and a new dataset on Twitter activity by all members of national parliaments (MPs) in the EU in 2018. Since users had no influence on how and when Twitter purged millions of bots, it serves as an exogenous intervention to investigate whether some parties or politicians lost more followers. We find drops in follower counts concentrated among radical right politicians, in particular those with strong anti-EU discourse. This is the first set of empirical, causally identified evidence supporting the idea that the radical right benefits more from malicious bots than other party families.