Partisanship, Propaganda and Post-Truth Politics: Quantifying Impact in Online Debate

Genevieve Gorrell, Mehmet E. Bakir, Ian Roberts, Mark A. Greenwood, Benedetta Iavarone, Kalina Bontcheva

The recent past has highlighted the influential role of social networks and online media in shaping public debate on current affairs and political issues. This paper is focused on studying the role of politically-motivated actors and their strategies for influencing and manipulating public opinion online: partisan media, state-backed propaganda, and post-truth politics. In particular, we present quantitative research on the presence and impact of these three `Ps' in online Twitter debates in two contexts: (i) the run up to the UK EU membership referendum (`Brexit'); and (ii) the information operations of Russia-backed online troll accounts. We first compare the impact of highly partisan versus mainstream media during the Brexit referendum, specifically comparing tweets by half a million `leave' and `remain' supporters. Next, online propaganda strategies are examined, specifically left- and right-wing troll accounts. Lastly, we study the impact of misleading claims made by the political leaders of the leave and remain campaigns. This is then compared to the impact of the Russia-backed partisan media and propaganda accounts during the referendum. In particular, just two of the many misleading claims made by politicians during the referendum were found to be cited in 4.6 times more tweets than the 7,103 tweets related to Russia Today and Sputnik and in 10.2 times more tweets than the 3,200 Brexit-related tweets by the Russian troll accounts.

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