Why Botter: How Pro-Government Bots Fight Opposition in Russia

Why Botter: How Pro-Government Bots Fight Opposition in Russia

By Denis Stukal, HSE University, Sergey Sanovich, Princeton University, Richard Bonneau and Joshua A. Tucker, New York University.

There is abundant anecdotal evidence that nondemocratic regimes are harnessing new digital technologies known as social media bots to facilitate policy goals. However, few previous attempts have been made to systematically analyze the use of bots that are aimed at a domestic audience in autocratic regimes. We develop two alternative theoretical frameworks for predicting the use of pro-regime bots: one which focuses on bot deployment in response to offline protest and the other in response to online protest. We then test the empirical implications of these frameworks with an original collection of Twitter data generated by Russian pro-government bots. We find that the online opposition activities produce stronger reactions from bots than offline protests. Our results provide a lower bound on the effects of bots on the Russian Twittersphere and highlight the importance of bot detection for the study of political communication on social media in nondemocratic regimes.

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