Journal article Open Access

The Brexit Botnet and Hyperpartisan Twitter

Bastos, Marco; Mercea, Dan

In this paper we uncover a network of Twitterbots comprising 13,493 accounts that tweeted the U.K. E.U. membership referendum, only to disappear from Twitter shortly after the ballot. We compare active users to this set of political bots with respect to temporal tweeting behavior, the size and speed of retweet cascades, and the composition of their retweet cascades (user-to-bot vs. bot-to-bot) to evidence strategies for bot deployment. Our results move forward the analysis of political bots by showing that Twitterbots can be effective at rapidly generating small to medium-sized cascades; that the retweeted content comprises user-generated hyperpartisan news, which is not strictly fake news, but whose shelf life is remarkably short; and, finally, that a botnet may be organized in specialized tiers or clusters dedicated to replicating either active users or content generated by other bots.

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