Internet Research Agency Twitter activity predicted 2016 U.S. election polls

  • Damian J Ruck University of Tennessee https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8678-8852
  • Natalie M Rice University of Tennessee
  • Joshua Borycz Vanderbilt University and University of Tennessee
  • R Alexander Bentley University of Tennessee
Keywords: 2016 presidential election, election polls, disinformation, social media

Abstract

In 2016, the Internet Research Agency (IRA) deployed thousands of Twitter bots that released hundreds of thousands of English language tweets. It has been hypothesized this affected public opinion during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Here we test that hypothesis using vector autoregression (VAR) comparing time series of election opinion polling during 2016 versus numbers of re-tweets or ‘likes’ of IRA tweets. We find that changes in opinion poll numbers for one of the candidates were consistently preceded by corresponding changes in IRA re-tweet volume, at an optimum interval of one week before. In contrast, the opinion poll numbers did not correlate with future re-tweets or ‘likes’ of the IRA tweets. We find that the release of these tweets parallel significant political events of 2016 and that approximately every 25,000 additional IRA re-tweets predicted a one percent increase in election opinion polls for one candidate. As these tweets were part of a larger, multimedia campaign, it is plausible that the IRA was successful in influencing U.S. public opinion in 2016.

Author Biographies

Damian J Ruck, University of Tennessee

Post-doctoral researcher with a joint appointment in the departments of Anthropology and Information and Communication

Natalie M Rice, University of Tennessee

Research Associate II Center for Information and Communication Studies

Joshua Borycz, Vanderbilt University and University of Tennessee

STEM Librarian at Vanderbilt University

Graduate Assistant in Information Science at University of Tennessee

R Alexander Bentley, University of Tennessee

Professor and Head of Anthropology

Published
2019-06-30
How to Cite
Ruck, D. J., Rice, N. M., Borycz, J., & Bentley, R. A. (2019). Internet Research Agency Twitter activity predicted 2016 U.S. election polls. First Monday, 24(7). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i7.10107