US presidential election 2016: Russian Twitter campaign without any measurable impact

Before Donald Trump was elected US President, there were attempts from Russia to influence him. This had no measurable consequences on Twitter.

The Russian-controlled Twitter campaigns for the 2016 US presidential election only reached very few on the platform, who was also already very firmly in the Republican camp. This was determined by an international research team more than six years later, thereby confirming earlier analyses. The so-called Russian troll factories on Twitter therefore probably had no influence on the surprising election result at the time. However, it would be a mistake to assume that other aspects of the attempted influence had no effect either, warns co-author Gregory Eady from the University of Copenhagen.

For the study presented now, surveys by the opinion research company YouGov, which surveyed almost 1,500 people in the USA three times in 2016, were evaluated. The representative group also agreed at the time to release information about their Twitter accounts. In addition, the research team was able to determine that the Russian influence campaign on the SMS service did not result in any measurable changes in the attitudes, polarization, and voting behavior of those exposed to it. The campaign, controlled by Russia, had the aim of promoting Donald Trump’s election victory – either by advertising for him or by campaigning against his competitor Hillary Clinton in favor of third parties.

The team explains that only one percent of those surveyed had seen 70 percent of the content in question. At the same time, those who identified as “decidedly” in the Republican camp saw nine times as much content from Russian-controlled accounts as those who identified as Democrats or independents. In addition, it was determined that the attempts to exert influence from Russia were literally lost between reports in the national media and contributions from US politics. In October 2016, respondents saw about four entries from Russian troll accounts per day, 106 from US media and 35 from US politicians. Add to that what people have seen on TV and on the internet. The whole study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Despite these fairly clear-cut results, the research team cautions against concluding that other parts of the campaign from abroad had no impact. It has been known for years that the influence of campaigns controlled by Russia was mainly about how certain issues were set in the election campaign. So they had a part in the flood of emails from Hillary Clinton reported and implied that their content was problematic. Although there was nothing really incriminating in it, certain content could also be directed against Clinton because of mistakes in Clinton’s election campaign. An FBI investigation initiated shortly before the election can also be traced back to Russian influence and certainly had an impact on the outcome of the election.

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