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Bots in the U.K.'s Brexit Referendum

The next speaker in this AoIR 2017 session is Marco Bastos, whose focus is on the Brexit referendum. He notes that a substantial number of bots were active in the Brexit debate on Twitter, yet many of these accounts disappeared immediately after the referendum. But it is also important to distinguish between different bots: there are legitimate bot developers that offer such accounts, while genuine, highly active users are sometimes also misidentified as bots.

Many bots in the referendum have disappeared, then, as have many of the URLs they shared at the time; these can now no longer be resolved. But those accounts that still exist may still give us a flavour of what the other accounts may have posted at the time; these bots do not necessarily only push their own content, but also promote genuinely user-generated content that aligns with their own political agenda. They also repurpose mainstream media content and frame it in a way that supports their messages.

Bots may be used to inflate the visibility metrics of specific political activists, while other bots are offering a genuine content curation service to ordinary Twitter users. Where bots are active, information can be made to cascade far more quickly and for a longer period of time than in more organic cases; organic cascades can become substantially larger than bot-triggers cascades, however.