Twitter bots propagating fake news, far-right propaganda and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories may have swayed millions voters in the UK and the US, a new study claims.

Twitter bots led to unexpected results in the Brexit vote and the 2016 US presidential elections which saw Donald Trump take up office, says a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study says the ‘aggressive use of Twitter bots’ played a crucial factor in what’s believed to be two of most important elections in the Western hemisphere this century. “Overall, our results suggest that the aggressive use of Twitter bots, coupled with the fragmentation of social media and the role of sentiment, could contribute to the vote outcomes.

Trump Twitter

The paper, authored by Yuriy Gorodnichenko from the University of California at Berkeley; and Tho Pham and Oleksandr Talavera from Swansea University, goes on to further emphasize that the increasing influence of social media is raising pertinent questions about whether governments should change their hands-off approach to the internet, and play a more proactive role to ensure that such abuse cannot ever take place in the future.

“These two campaigns and subsequent debates about the role of bots in shaping the campaigns raise a number of questions about whether policymakers should consider mechanisms to prevent abuse of bots in the future”

According to calculations carried out by the researchers, social media bots played a a small but potentially decisive role in the two elections. The study claims that bots added around 1.76 percentage points to the pro-Brexit vote share in the UK and 3.23 percentage points to the pro-Trump vote share in the US.