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The Public Accountability of Social Platforms: Lessons from a Study on Bots and Trolls in the Brexit Campaign

Bastos, M. T. ORCID: 0000-0003-0480-1078 & Mercea, D. (2018). The Public Accountability of Social Platforms: Lessons from a Study on Bots and Trolls in the Brexit Campaign. Philosophical Transactions A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 376(2128), article number 20180003. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2018.0003


In this article we review our study of 13,493 bot-like Twitter accounts that tweeted the U.K. European Union membership referendum and disappeared from the platform after the ballot. We discuss the methodological challenges and lessons learned from a study that emerged in a period of increasing weaponization of social media and mounting concerns about information warfare. We address the challenges and shortcomings involved in bot detection, the extent to which disinformation campaigns on social media are effective, valid metrics for user exposure, activation, and engagement in the context of disinformation campaigns, unsupervised and supervised posting protocols, along with infrastructure and ethical issues associated with social sciences research based on large-scale social media data. We argue for improving researchers’ access to data associated with contentious issues and suggest that social media platforms should offer public Application Programming Interfaces to allow researchers access to content generated on their networks. We conclude with reflections on the relevance of this research agenda to public policy.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
SWORD Depositor:
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