Russian disinformation on Twitter during the 2016 presidential election did not have a “measurable” impact on the results of the election, according to a recent study.
Russian bot accounts did not impact “political attitudes, polarization, and vote preferences and behavior,” as 70% of exposure was experienced by 1% of accounts or 32 million users, according to the New York University Center for Social Media and Politics study. The study showed that the presence of Russian accounts did not have a “measurable” effect on voter outcomes, and media from U.S. politicians overshadowed Russian content during the 2016 presidential race.
Of those exposed, Republican accounts were nine times more likely to see disinformation compared to non-Republican accounts, according to the study. (RELATED: ‘Pushed By Elements Of The Kremlin’: State Dept. Defends Labeling Lab Leak ‘Foreign Disinformation,’ Flagging Tweets On Subject)
“My personal sense coming out of this is that this got way overhyped,” Josh Tucker, one of the report’s authors and co-director of the New York University center, told The Washington Post. “Now we’re looking back at data and we can see how concentrated this was in one small portion of the population, and how the fact that people who were being exposed to these were really, really likely to vote for Trump.”
Though the study shows that Russian disinformation on Twitter likely had little to no effect on the election, the study does not address any other social media platforms.
The most influential pro-Trump disinformation campaign of the 2016 cycle was run by The New York Times and broadcast television news, both of which told people that there was a high stakes choice about candidates’ fastidiousness with regard to handling classified information. https://t.co/0ITshzZs4O
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) January 9, 2023
The study took multiple years to complete, as researchers had to acquire data from Twitter, conduct the study, carry out surveys and run it through the peer review process, Tucker told the Post. Though it took years, acquiring data from Twitter was easier than Facebook or Instagram, as posts are public, he said.
Twitter’s smaller user base, researchers were able to find fundamental differences between Facebook and Twitter while tracking Russian accounts, Tucker told the Post. “One of the super interesting things we were able to do in this paper is show that lots of what people were exposed to here was not because they were following the accounts of these Russian trolls, but because they follow people who retweeted tweets that came from these Russian trolls, and that’s easier on Twitter, where almost everything is open,” Tucker said.
The researchers mostly learned how Russians influenced the election, and not the impact of the influence, Tucker told the Post. “The key thing to understand here is there’s different pieces of the Russian foreign influence attempt. The vast majority of what we’ve learned so far is about what happened, not what the impact of it was.”
When asked if a marginal group of people exposed to disinformation could be connected to victories for former President Donald Trump in close states, Tucker said that the sample size of the Twitter study suggests not, but “we’ll never really know.”
“We cannot reject out of hand that there wasn’t some incredibly unlikely confluence of things here that happened in this regard,” Tucker said.
Twitter did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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