Speed Reads

Trump Twitter Troops

Something strange is going on with Trump's Twitter followers

On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton told a tech conference that President Trump's victory over her in November came with a little help from an army of automated bots on Twitter, and alluded to reports that bots are once again amassing at Trump's Twitter fortress. "Who is behind driving up Trump's Twitter followers by the millions? We know they're bots," she said. "Is it to make him look more popular than he is? Is it to try to influence others on Twitter about what the messaging is so that people get caught up in it and lose sight of what they're trying to say?"

BuzzFeed News rated that assertion false, because Twitter had told BuzzFeed that Trump did not recently gain 5 million followers in three days, but researchers say there really is something fishy going on with Trump's Twitter numbers — which grew by 2.4 million in May, from 28.6 million to 31 million followers, or about one new follower a second. "In my expert opinion, something strange is going on," Samuel C. Woolley, research director for the Computational Propaganda project at Oxford University, tells The Washington Post. "It's consistent with other strange things that have gone on before with this politician's Twitter feed."

The numbers themselves aren't that shocking — he is president, and uses Twitter a lot — but there's "a strangely large percentage of Trump's followers — and especially his newest followers — that have only the most rudimentary account information, with no profile picture, few followers, and little sign that they have ever tweeted." These so-called "egg followers" are often, but not always, automated bots. According to analytics firm SocialRank, Trump has 9.1 million egg followers, up from 5 million in February. "The quality of the new followers is pretty bad," says Jonathan Albright at Columbia.

Some of Trump's new followers have just joined and haven't yet completed their profiles, experts say, but there's also evidence of a bot buildup. "It's probably a combination of both," SocialRank CEO Alexander Taub told the Post, "but there's something fishy." The reason people are paying attention is that Trump's bots outperformed Clinton's 5-to-1 in the days before the election, according to a study by Wooly and his Oxford colleagues. You can read more about what may be afoot at The Washington Post.