Bots for #Brexit

Game of life

First thing: I think the UK’s vote to leave the European Union is a calamitous mistake. The worst in foreign policy since Suez in 1956 and quite possibly second only to Munich in the last century.

What I want to write about here, though, is the way in which that Leave campaigners (in the broadest sense) leveraged the use of Twitter bots in the campaign. A report now available on Arxiv (here) suggests that bots generated over three times as many pro-Brexit tweets (97,431) than pro-Remain messages (28,075) in a one-week period in June.

(The report also suggests a slightly higher proportion – 15.1% – of pro-Remain tweets were bot-generated than for Leave – 14.7%)

Did it matter? The paper suggests bots have “a small but strategic” impact. In a referendum of huge importance that was lost by a narrow vote that could be very important.

My personal experience was that the online field was much more important in the Scottish referendum, where the “Yes” campaign (in favour of Scotland leaving the UK) were very effective in mobilising online resources for people seeking to “research” the question.

One thing where both referendum campaigns were similar was that the pro-change campaign accused the other side of being “Project Fear” and used online resources to repeatedly reassure people that they need not fear the consequences of a Yes/Leave vote.

Happily, in Scotland, disaster was averted and so the accusation of Project Fear merely lingers. Over the EU it has now become Project I Bloody Well Told You So.

3 responses to “Bots for #Brexit”

  1. If the bots are posting curated content that is factual or relevant, then you could argue it is automation. A sensible use of time and resources.
    If the bots are just spamming , it only creates excess noise.

    By the way, if you think staying IN the EU was a good idea, does that suggest that the deceits and obfuscation concerning the real objective of the EU is acceptable to you?

    The EU has a flag, anthem, parliament, army. It is essentially a supranational state. This superstate is in the process of colluding with the US to introduce TTIP and ISDS. A trade inimical to common law. A private/corporate agreement imposed on the public and of which they have no resource to challenge. A disgusting inversion of the “rule of law”.

    TTIP is the nail that sealed the corrupt coffin of the EU. May it rot 6 feet under!

  2. The analyses we’ve seen over here (interspersed in the endless Donald Trump campaign noise) suggest that “millennials” leaned toward staying (but perhaps did not turn out in great strength) and geezers leaned (heavily?) toward exit. If true, does this mean the bot-work was essentially in vain? The old-timers seem unlikely to know Twitter from other bird calls, while the incessantly-phone-checking millennials seem not to have been swayed by the collective robotic wisdom of the Twitterverse.

    1. Paul, I agree that the impact will have been limited – but everyone’s vote counted for the same – so even the younger people voting Leave mattered. But plainly the referendum wasn’t lost because of Twitter.

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