The role of bots on Twitter

Research shows the pervasive role that automated accounts play in disseminating links to a wide range of prominent websites on Twitter.

Pew Research Center set out to discover how many of the links being shared on Twitter are being promoted by bots rather than humans.

The Center analysed 1.2 million English-language tweets that included links to 2315 of the most popular websites during six weeks in 2017.

Key findings

  • 66% of tweeted links are shared by accounts with the characteristics of bot accounts
  • An estimated 89% of tweeted links to popular aggregation sites from around the web are posted by bots
  • Automated accounts were responsible for an estimated 90% of all tweeted links to popular adult content websites
  • A relatively small number of highly active bots are responsible for a significant share of links to prominent news and media sites.
    • The 500 most-active suspected bot accounts are responsible for 22% of the tweeted links to popular news and current events sites
    • By comparison, the 500 most-active human users are responsible for a much smaller share (approx 6%) of tweeted links to these outlets
  • The study does not find evidence that automated accounts have a liberal or conservative political bias in their overall link-sharing behaviour
    • Suspected bots share roughly 41% of links to political sites shared primarily by liberals and 44% of links to political sites shared primarily by conservatives – a difference that is not statistically significant
    • By contrast, suspected bots share 57% to 66% of links from news and current events sites shared primarily by an ideologically mixed or centrist human audience

You can read more about the research, including the methodology, here.