Dormant Bots in Social Media: Twitter and the 2018 U.S. Senate Election

Takacs, Richard; McCulloh, Ian

Bots are often identified on social media due to their behavior. How easily are they identified, however, when they are dormant and exhibit no measurable behavior at all, except for their silence? We identified “dormant bot networks” positioned to influence social media discourse surrounding the 2018 U.S. senate election. A dormant bot is a social media persona that does not post content yet has large follower and friend relationships with other users. These relationships may be used to manipulate online narratives and elevate or suppress certain discussions in the social media feed of users. Using a simple structure-based approach, we identify a large number of dormant bots created in 2017 that begin following the social media accounts of numerous US government politicians running for re-election in 2018. Findings from this research were used by the U.S. Government to suspend dormant bots prior to the elections to prevent any malign influence campaign. Application of this approach by social media providers may provide a novel method to reduce the risk of content manipulation for online platforms.