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Presidential Campaign Friction Intensifies on Twitter

Twitter has been the epicenter of the presidential race more or less since it kicked off. Every narrative beat, however dramatic or undramatic, has had a ripple effect largely carried by the platform. The candidates themselves have all been active on it, feuding, running damage control, making announcements and blaming mistakes on interns, but now things have started to get weird.

This week, two particular stories have stood out, one in the blue camp and one in the red. Starting with the latter, we're refreshingly not even a little bit concerned with Trump's doings this time around, instead it's Ted Cruz, or rather, an army of robots hell-bent on discrediting Ted Cruz. #NeverTrump affiliate Patrick Ruffini first noticed it - 465 bot Twitter accounts, all posting the same thing: "If you’ve opted out of Ted Cruz robocalls and are still receiving calls, you can file a complaint with the FCC,"

The phrasing varies from tweet to tweet, but the frequency, timing and location of the posts all indicated that they were being put up automatically, from accounts posting nothing else political besides this. All the rest of the tweets were advertising spam posts about fashion and marketing, with the odd post written in Arabic. Weirdly though, when Ruffini pointed this out, many of the accounts started posting #NeverTrump and pro-Cruz material, whilst some accounts simply vanished altogether.

This could easily have been a result of bots being programmed to tweet non-spam material in order to appear more human. They will scan Twitter for trending topics and replicate them accordingly, and with only 7 months left until the election, hardly a day goes by when it's not heading the charts. The other suggestion is that this is being done intentionally, as part of a technique known as election hacking, which is well documented in South America but largely unheard of at this level of US politics, simply because of the cheapness/pettiness of it. Still, things have become so heated in the past few months that it wouldn't come as that much of a surprise, the only remaining question is - if it was, who dunnit?

Meanwhile, over in the blue camp, where there are only two candidates left in the running, things have been a little more predictable. Neither Hillary nor Bernie have been shy about digging at each other, but their supporters have a reputation for doing so voraciously. Bernie supporters in particular have faced criticism from some for being too aggressive/insulting to their opponents. A particular subset of them have been branded 'Bernie bros', because of the perceived dominance of white male support in his camp.

The jury's still out on just how much weigh there is to that claim, but it's still a fervent source of debate, not least under the newly established #EndCyBernBullying banner. First rolled out by Clinton supporters to criticise both Sanders and his camp for using negative tactics, it was swiftly adopted by the other side and soon become the knot in a tug of war, with both sides claiming that the other went negative first.

Neither candidate has condoned any such behaviour, and in fact Sanders denounced it, but the claim from each side is that the opposing candidate got the ball rolling during a particular speech, either Sanders when he called attention to Clinton's Wall Street ties, or Clinton when she accused Sanders of lying about fossil fuel corporation contributions to her campaign.

Since then, this has developed into the pro-Hillary camp accusing Bernie supporters of hijacking their hashtag, which they were supposedly using to shed light on the 'hit list' of pro-Hillary Twitter accounts that Bernie bros had supposedly been compiling. Whether or not any of this will actually affect voter turnout, or changes of heart, remains to be seen, but it's an interesting indicator of the way Twitter has changed the frame of political debate.

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @Songbird_Callum

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Presidential Campaign Friction Intensifies on Twitter Reviewed by Unknown on Monday, April 11, 2016 Rating: 5

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