Assessing the Russian Troll Efforts to Sow Discord on Twitter during the 2016 U.S. Election

Stephen A. Rains, Yotam Shmargad, Kevin Coe, Kate Kenski, Steven Bethard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Although experts agree that the Russian Internet Research Agency deployed trolls on Twitter to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election, questions remain about the nuances of their efforts. We examined almost 350,000 original tweets made during the two-year electoral cycle to investigate the emphasis, timing, content, and partisanship of the trolls' efforts targeting leading candidates. Despite only dedicating a fraction of their tweets to candidates, troll behavior generally tracked the relevance of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Ted Cruz during the election cycle. Trolls were significantly more likely to engage in name-calling in tweets about Trump, Clinton, and Cruz than in tweets about other topics. Name-calling peaked in tweets addressing Clinton during the general election. Right trolls were more likely to focus their attention on Trump, Clinton, and Cruz than were other partisan trolls.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)477-486
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Communication Research
Volume47
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021

Keywords

  • 2016 U.S. Election
  • Incivility
  • Political communication
  • Social media
  • Trolls

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Linguistics and Language

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