For Whom the Bell Trolls: Shifting Troll Behaviour in the Twitter Brexit Debate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In 2017 Twitter released a list of 2,752 accounts believed to be connected to state‐sponsored Russian operative manipulation of the 2016 American Election. We investigate the behaviour of these accounts in the UK–EU referendum using our own unique longitudinal Twitter dataset. We identify Brexit‐related content from 419 of these accounts, totalling 3,485 tweets between 29 August 2015 and 3 October 2017. While these accounts were primarily designed to resemble American citizens, accounts created in 2016 contained German and Italian locations and terms in user profiles, suggesting targeting of wider international electoral processes. Brexit was one of many targets, likely indicating coordinated repurposing of ‘troll’ activity over time. We analyze behavioural shifts in account behaviour in relation to external events, introducing a temporal dimension not typical of political Twitter studies. The ‘troll’ account behaviour altered radically on UK–EU referendum day, shifting from generalized disruptive tweeting to retweeting other troll accounts to amplify their effect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1148-1164
Number of pages17
JournalJCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies
Volume57
Issue number5
Early online date11 Jun 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019

Keywords

  • social media analysis
  • Brexit
  • Russian trolls
  • referendum
  • Twitter

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