An automated army of pro-Donald J. Trump chatbots overwhelmed similar programs supporting Hillary Clinton five to one in the days leading up to the presidential election, according to a report published Thursday by researchers at Oxford University.
The chatbots — basic software programs with a bit of artificial intelligence and rudimentary communication skills — would send messages on Twitterbased on a topic, usually defined on the social network by a word preceded by a hashtag symbol, like #Clinton.
Their purpose: to rant, confuse people on facts, or simply muddy discussions, said Philip N. Howard, a sociologist at the Oxford Internet Institute and one of the authors of the report. If you were looking for a real debate of the issues, you weren’t going to find it with a chatbot….
Because the chatbots were almost entirely anonymous and were frequently bought in secret from companies or individual programmers, it was not possible to directly link the activity to either campaign, except for a handful of “joke” bots created by Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, they noted.
However, there was evidence that the mystery chatbots were part of an organized effort.
“There does seem to be strategy behind the bots,” Dr. Howard said. “By the third debate, Trump bots were launching into their activity early and we noticed that automated accounts were actually colonizing Clinton hashtags.”