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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalJCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies
StateAccepted/In press - 21 Nov 2018

Abstract

Twitter released a list of 2,752 accounts believed connected to state-sponsored Russian operative manipulation of the 2016 American Election. We investigated the behaviour of these accounts in the UK-EU referendum using our longitudinal Twitter dataset. We identified Brexit-related content from 419 of these accounts, totalling 3,485 tweets between 29th August 2015 and 3rd 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 analyse 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 generalised disruptive tweeting to retweeting other troll accounts to amplify their effect.

ID: 78863364