The activity of Russian propaganda accounts on Twitter turned out to be a pretty good predictor of Trump's standing in the 2016 US election polls.
That's the bottom line of a new study out from the University of Tennessee which found that gains in Trump's 2016 poll numbers correlated to increased activity from Russian trolls and military social media accounts linked to Russia's Internet Research Agency.
Effectively, this report is saying that American voters were probably influenced by Russian propaganda.
"It turns out that the activity of Russian Twitter trolls was a better predictor of Donald Trump's polling numbers than his own Twitter activity," wrote one of the researchers.
Read their report here.
From the report:
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 that 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.
Jared Kushner called it "a couple of Facebook ads." But a new study found that every 25,000 re-tweets by accounts connected to a Russian troll farm predicted a one percent increase in opinion polls for Trump in 2016. https://t.co/axWC65YMKp
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) July 1, 2019
Excerpt from Ken Dilanian's NBC News story about the study:
The study, by researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, does not prove that Russian interference swung the election to Trump. But it demonstrates that Trump's gains in popularity during the 2016 campaign correlated closely with high levels of social media activity by the Russian trolls and bots of the Internet Research Agency, a key weapon in the Russian attack.
"Our results show that the weeks when Russian trolls were accumulating likes and retweets on Twitter, that activity reliably foreshadowed gains for Trump in the opinion polls," wrote Damian Ruck, the study's lead researcher, in an article explaining his findings.
The study found that every 25,000 re-tweets by accounts connected to the IRA predicted a one percent increase in opinion polls for Trump.
In an interview with NBC News, Ruck said the research suggests that Russian trolls helped shift U.S public opinion in Trump's favor. As to whether it affected the outcome of the election: "The answer is that we still don't know, but we can't rule it out."
Given that the election turned on 75,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, "it is a prospect that should be taken seriously," Ruck wrote, adding that more study was needed in those swing states.
He points out that 13 percent of voters didn't make their final choice until the last week before the election.
Ruck said the correlation between troll activity and Trump's popularity remained true even when controlling for Trump's own Twitter activity and other variables.
"It turns out that the activity of Russian Twitter trolls was a better predictor of Donald Trump's polling numbers than his own Twitter activity," he wrote.
Reminder: Jared was not discussing JUST the disinfo side of the operation — he also included a hostile foreign country hacking on party for 6 months in that Facebook ad dismissal. https://t.co/yRBOoCAn2P
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) July 1, 2019