Center for Informed Democracy & Social - cybersecurity: IDeaS Seminar

  • Remote Access Enabled
  • Virtual Presentation - ET
  • Professor of Politics, Director Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia
  • Co-Director NYU Social Media and Political Participation (SMaPP) Lab
  • NewYork University

The (Surprisingly?) Limited Impact of Russia's Election Interference on Twitter in the 2016 US Election

There is currently widespread concern that malicious foreign actors are using social media to interfere in the elections of Western democracies. However, few high-quality data sources exist to investigate the effects of these foreign influence campaigns. We use a unique longitudinal survey of US citizens linked to their Twitter feeds to quantify the effects of exposure to posts from Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) trolls on attitudes and voting behavior during the 2016 US presidential election. We provide the first direct evidence that exposure to foreign influence campaigns on social media was highly concentrated among an exceptionally small group of users, primarily highly partisan Republicans. A scant 1% of US users accounted for 70% of exposures to Russian troll activity. Furthermore, exposure to foreign influence campaigns was dwarfed by content from domestic news media and politicians. Finally, we test whether exposure to posts from Russian trolls affected political preferences and voting behavior. Across a wide array of outcomes, we find no demonstrable effects of exposure to content from Russian trolls on changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior. Our findings have important implications for our understanding of the limitations of foreign influence campaigns on social media.

Joshua A. Tucker is Professor of Politics, affiliated Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies, and affiliated Professor of Data Science at New York University. He is the Director of NYU’s Jordan Center for Advanced Study of Russia, a co-Director of the NYU Center for Social Media and Politics, and a co-author/editor of the award-winning politics and policy blog The Monkey Cage at The Washington Post. He serves on the advisory board of the American National Election Study, the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, and numerous academic journals, and was the co-founder and co-editor of the Journal of Experimental Political Science. His most recent books are the co-authored Communism’s Shadow: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Political Attitudes (Princeton University Press, 2017), and the co-edited Social Media and Democracy: The State of the Field and Prospects for Reform (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

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