Canadians following the federal election on Twitter have undoubtedly noticed the seemingly disproportionate online Support for Maxime Bernier’s “People’s Party”.
Most polls put the party between 1 and 3 percent, placing them in a distant sixth place. Support for the party has never risen about 3%, and
If you had to judge popular support by checking Twitter, you may be mistaken into thinking the PPC was, in fact, on the cusp of forming a majority government. This is no coincidence. This is not the result of popular support, this is the result of systemic abuse of social media sites to give the illusion of popular support.
Unlike most social media sites, Twitter has a widely-used and abused API that allows accounts to generate content autonomously. One way of seeing this in action is the widely observed phenomenon of “copy tweets”. This happens when a script sends out a single Tweet to multiple accounts in order to abuse the trending system on Twitter, giving the topic buzz and generating engagement.
Here’s are some examples of the PPC’s use of copy tweets. The specific accounts shown below tweeted the exact same thing in both official languages several times.
The PPC also uses bot accounts and “lists” to rig the like system on Twitter. If you look at who retweets and likes party-related content, you will notice that over 90% of the engagement is coming from PPC accounts. You could find thousands of examples, but this tweet by Nova Scotia PPC candidate Michelle Lindsay was retweeted by 32 accounts. 27 of those accounts are almost entirely dedicated to retweeting party content. Many of those 27 accounts are likely to be bots based on their “Botometer” score.
Another tactic by PPC accounts is the use of Twitter polls. This is yet another way to fake popular support. Polls are created by PPC accounts and retweeted by PPC accounts. These polls are then cited by supporters to show that scientific polling is wrong and that polling is being “rigged” against the party.
Online polling is also used by the PPC to fake popular support for Bernier’s policies, including his policy to lower immigration rates to 100k per year, a move economists agree would cripple the economy.
The PPC’s online ecosystem is certainly partially driven by fanatical supporters who retweet and like every party related tweet that shows up on their feed, but much of the engagement is driven by bots and scrips.
Advanced Symbolics Inc, a company that uses AI and social media data to predict voting patterns puts the PPC in the range of 2% nationally. If the PPC’s online strategy was working, it would be reflected in the ASI data. It isn’t.
Ultimately, we will all have to wait and see what effect the PPC’s Twitter strategy has on actual voting. The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.