Bots are Less Central than Verified Accounts during Contentious Political Events

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

37 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2020 Last revised: 4 Feb 2021

See all articles by Sandra González-Bailón

Sandra González-Bailón

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication

Manlio De Domenico

Fondazione Bruno Kessler - Center for Information Technology

Date Written: June 27, 2020

Abstract

Information manipulation is widespread in today’s media environment. Online networks have disrupted the gatekeeping role of traditional media by allowing various actors to influence the public agenda; they have also allowed automated accounts (or bots) to blend with human activity in the flow of information. Here, we assess the impact that bots had on the dissemination of content during two contentious political events that evolved in real-time on social media. We focus on events of heightened political tension because they are particularly susceptible to information campaigns designed to mislead or exacerbate conflict. We compare the visibility of bots with human accounts, verified accounts, and mainstream news outlets. Our analyses combine millions of posts from a popular microblogging platform with web-tracking data collected from two different countries and timeframes. We employ tools from network science, natural language processing, and machine learning to analyze the diffusion structure, the content of the messages diffused, and the actors behind those messages as the political events unfolded. We show that verified accounts are significantly more visible than unverified bots in the coverage of the events but also that bots attract more attention than human accounts. Our findings highlight that social media and the web are very different news ecosystems in terms of prevalent news sources and that both humans and bots contribute to generate discrepancy in news visibility with their activity.

Keywords: Social media; news exposure; online networks; information diffusion; political mobilization; computational social science

Suggested Citation

González-Bailón, Sandra and De Domenico, Manlio, Bots are Less Central than Verified Accounts during Contentious Political Events (June 27, 2020). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3637121 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3637121

Sandra González-Bailón (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication ( email )

Philadelphia, PA
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://dimenet.asc.upenn.edu/people/sgonzalezbailon/

Manlio De Domenico

Fondazione Bruno Kessler - Center for Information Technology ( email )

Via Sommarive 18
Povo
Trento, 38123
Italy

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