Bad-faith actors use a variety of online manipulation practices to disrupt elections or damage the reputation of public figures. Some of these practices rely on traditional paid-for advertising. Yet, using the services of Google and Co. can be notoriously expensive. Services like AdSense or Facebook Pixel also leave an easily identifiable digital footprint. Instead, many manipulation campaigns rely on the seemingly organic spread of content — giving their message free exposure across social networks. How can bad-faith actors achieve this organic spread of content? One of the techniques is ‘astroturfing’.

What is astroturfing?

To understand astroturfing, let’s take a look the original meaning…


The political sphere has been abuzz over the last weeks with the announcement by Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey that his platform would no longer accept political advertisements. The policy change will take full effect on 22 November, just in time for the UK General Election in December. It is not wonder that the decision was widely greeted with enthusiasm, both in the UK and internationally. As I have explained elsewhere, micro-targeted ads may have a significant potential to disrupt fair elections — particularly in winner-takes-it-all systems.

Twitter’s stance on political advertisement is in stark contrast to Facebook’s…


Disinformation campaigns are being used everywhere to undermine democracy. Yet, most accounts of online disinformation swaying elections come out of the US and the UK. The media’s disproportionate coverage of these two countries is partially to blame for this — but are there similarities between the US and UK political systems that make them more vulnerable to manipulation attempts?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Both the US and the UK effectively have a two-party system in which the winner takes it all. This means whoever gets most votes in the constituency will represent the entire region — indifferent of how close the runner-up came to…

Christian Schwieter

MSc student @ Oxford Internet Institute. All things digital politics, disinformation & online social movements. More at christianschwieter.com

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