Social bots in political communication

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In political communication, social bots are a new phenomenon of using automated algorithms that imitate behavior of real political agents in online social networks. The article presents a review of foreign and Russian approaches to the study of social bots. The authors identify three main thematic fields in the study of social bots: 1) types of social bots, 2) the use of bots in election campaigns, and 3) methods to detect bots. The article considers different types of social bots and concludes that in the political communication social bots’ typologies are based mainly on characteristics of their use (goals, functions, ways), which is determined by the aims of political agents that control social bots. The authors identify six key areas of using bots in the political communication: soft information wars; propaganda of pro-government position; astroturfing as a technology to create artificial public opinion; changing public opinion by constructing agents of influence or false public opinion leaders; delegitimization of government systems, support of opposition forces and civil society actors; setting agenda and political debates. The authors summarize the results of the analysis of bots’ usage in election campaigns (in the USA, Great Britain, Venezuela, Japan and other countries) and identify three main communication strategies based on bot-campaigns: 1) attracting supporters, 2) constructing a positive politician’s image, and 3) discrediting a political opponent. The comparative analysis of bots’ detection mechanisms showed that researchers use the same automated algorithms based on static and behavior characteristics but in different combinations. As bot accounts get more sophisticated and complex, the mixed method approach combining programming and social science methods will be developing too.

About the authors

V V Vasilkova

Saint Petersburg State University

Author for correspondence.

доктор философских наук, профессор кафедры социологии культуры и коммуникации Санкт-Петербургского государственного университета

Universitetskaya Nab., 7/9, Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russia

N I Legostaeva

Saint Petersburg State University


кандидат социологических наук, заместитель директора Центра социологических и интернет-исследований Санкт-Петербургского государственного университета

Universitetskaya Nab., 7/9, Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russia


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Copyright (c) 2019 Vasilkova V.V., Legostaeva N.I.

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