Social media,
Online Disinformation
and Elections

Political polarisation, disinformation and bots

A "troll" network we found participating in the Brexit debate on Twitter

"Post-truth politics” and "weaponised relativism" describe strategies by which misleading information can be used to shape debates, redirect attention and sow confusion in order to influence political outcomes. The internet hosts a jungle of mainstream and alternative media with a broad range of motives and ethical standards, requiring a level of critical reading that we haven't needed before.

Understanding how the new media landscape influences us in the context of polarised political debates is a key focus of interest in the SoBigData project. In our work on the UK membership referendum (aka Brexit) we wanted to understand who sought to influence voters, and how they tried to do it. Buzzfeed published our findings on the differences between what leave and remain supporters were saying about Brexit on Twitter.

Social media is also rife with disinformation often propagated by untrustworthy sources, through the creation of automated or human-like (cyborg) fake accounts. Together with Buzzfeed News, we went hunting for Russian "bots" and "troll" accounts in tweets about Brexit. Our most recent research (PDF, 380KB) also considered the role of partisan media in the Brexit online debate.

Further reading

Partisanship, propaganda and post-truth politics: Supplementary materials

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