The Final Leg of the French Election Was Plagued by Twitter Bots

Yesterday if you stood on the cliffs of Dover, you would have felt the sizeable gust blowing inland as the entirety of France breathed a collective sigh of relief. Emmanuel Macron edged out his terrifying far-right opponent Marine Le Pen to become the next president of France. In the wake of Trump and the disturbing growth of far right movements across the world, this certainly felt like a win for many people.

In the final days, things got really contentious, as a story broke that Macron's email had been hacked. Leaked documents began spreading all across the web, and Twitter was ablaze with shares and comments twinned with the #MacronGate hashtag. Thing is though, a startling portion of these tweets weren't coming from actual people, they were coming from bots.

Researchers figured this out when they realised that 40% of the tweets were coming from a mere 5% of the accounts who were talking about it. One account in particular tweeted the hashtag 1,668 times in only 24 hours. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that a single human being wouldn't do that, regardless of how many amphetamines they might have taken that day. This was the work of bots, a small army of them.

Twitter has security measures which are designed to curb all-out bot assaults like this, but this time they were caught sleeping. This is surprising, considering that they pledged to do more against it in the wake of the US presidential election, which saw a disproportionate amount of pro-Trump bot activity. Between the first and second debates, around 33% of all pro-Trump tweets were coming from automated accounts.

Luckily it wasn't anywhere near enough to stop Macron from winning, he ended up getting in with 66.1% of the vote, but it's yet another example of social media being abused to the stack the deck. With another very significant election on the horizon here the UK, Twitter might now find themselves under more pressure than ever to appropriately deal with bot attacks.

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