Twitter bots are automated user accounts that interact with Twitter using an application programming interface (API). These bots can be programmed to perform tasks normally associated with human interaction, including follow users, favor tweets, direct message (DM) other users and, most importantly, they can tweet content, and retweet anything posted by a specific set of users or featuring a specific hashtag. Many are used to perform important functions, such as tweet about earthquakes in real-time and serve as part of a warning system. In the case of a campaign, however, political or otherwise, they are normally used to generate mass interest in specific content by spreading messages at a rate that isn’t possible with human users. A research paper produced by Indiana University in March 2017 found that 15 percent of all Twitter accounts were bots.
A lone Twitter bot won’t facilitate the mass distribution of election material, “fake news”, or certain ideas. There are entire networks of bots that push content to the public and heavily follow each other to make the accounts appear legitimate. In a study carried out by Pew Research Center in April 2018, it was reported that approximately two-thirds of all tweeted links to popular websites were attributed to bots. A Knight Research Foundation studypublished in October 2018 identified a core network of heavily connected Twitter accounts that spread fake news links. Due to the high number of followers this core network has stories can spread quickly.
Some bot administrators will employ stealth tactics to conceal the properties of a bot, so it is important to note that some bots may not be bots all of the time. The account may include human interaction, but function as a bot at other times, to appear as a regular human user account.