The use of bots and automated profiles in the political debate are risks known to the democratic process since at least 2014, according to the FGV DAPP’s study from August 2017. The study which showed the presence of “bots” acting in favor of the main political fields on Twitter during elections that year.
This unpublished study identifies, based on the political process of 2014, a botnet of 699 automated profiles (a “subnet” of all bots that were already highlighted by FGV DAPP during that time). These automated profiles shared content from the campaigns of Aécio Neves (PSDB) and Marina Silva (former PSB) in 2014. In the same database of the 2014 elections, were also evaluated the automated accounts of the campaign of the former President Dilma Rousseff (PT). The analysis identified a botnet with a total of 430 automated accounts (another “subnet”) that shared the link of the website Muda Mais and 79 accounts that shared another official link of Dilma.
The analysis exposed, in summary, links between (1) companies that provided services to the candidacy of Aécio, Marina and Dilma and their campaigns and (2) campaign websites, which contents were shared by botnets in the campaigns of Aécio Neves (Case 1), Marina Silva (Case 2) and Dilma Rousseff (Case 3). It is worth noting that, this study does not aim to identify the outsourcing of automated profiles for the campaigns or candidates aforementioned. The purpose of the study has academic and methodological interest on the interferences of bots and automated profiles in the public debate on social networks.
Regarding Case 1 – Aécio Neves’s campaign , based on the Superior Electoral Court website (TSE – Tribunal Superior Eleitoral – herein after TSE), it was identified that R$ 168,000.00 were paid in three installments to a company called Storm Security for the provision of technology services. By this sense, a connection was established between the service provider and the website in which the content was shared by bots.
In Case 3 – Dilma Rousseff’s campaign , this relation was proved by a TSE decision granting an injunction requested by Marina Silva and her coalition. The politician suggested that the company Digital Polis , owner of the domain www.dilma.com.br , was the digital arm of Polis Propaganda, “the company that owns the website www.mudamais.com ”.
Therefore, the results confirm the risks of interference with the Brazilian elections through the use of automated profiles (bots) and manipulative content on social networks in all major political fields in the 2018 elections, including the funding of online campaigns with public resources. Bots may have positive and negative aspects: they can be content polluters and malicious promoters; but they can also be genuine, by publishing and updating news feeds, performing transactions and customer service, among other services. In this study, the focus is on the negative aspects, aiming to reflect upon the interferences within the electoral process and the defense of democracy.
Finally, the results presented in this document were acquired via a sequence of methodological, analytical and investigative processes. As information was obtained from open source research, and public sources, this study can be replicated for the purpose of verifying the methodology adopted by FGV DAPP.