Are Twitter bot and propaganda accounts attempting to influence the Illinois governor election?

EDIT: The three Twitter bot and propaganda accounts I mentioned below have all changed their names shortly after this article was published. @NinaMorton is now @MAGANinaJo, @redhead4645 is now @my2006bmw, and @patriotpete101 is now @TruckinPete101.

This article was originally going to be about sentiment analysis on tweets about candidates in the Illinois governor election. However, when I was pulling data from Twitter, I noticed that Governor Bruce Rauner’s primary opponent, Jeanne Ives, had almost five thousand tweets and retweets mentioning her name, placing her with four times the amount of mentions of the leading Democratic candidate.

When I looked into this further, half of Jeanne Ives’ mentions come from retweets of posts by the Twitter handle NinaMorton. Additional mentions come from accounts like redhead4645 and PatriotPete101. These accounts are filled with right wing propaganda tweeted out multiple times a day.

An example of an image tweeted out by NinaMorton

NinaMorton’s account also has recently gained a lot of traction. If you look at her tweets from just April of last year, notice how she does not have any retweets.

Her account content even seems somewhat normal, as if a human actually wrote them. The tweets aren’t filled with propaganda, she does not retweet fake news articles, and no one retweets her.

During August of last year, NinaMorton saw growth on Twitter as her account began to have some retweets on her Twitter posts. However, her Twitter posts mainly consisted of sharing news articles.

However, over the course of the next month, her content begins to change even more. She begins to gain a lot of followers, around a hundred to two hundred per day.

Within less than a month’s time, her posts went from having around twenty retweets to nearly one thousand retweets. The news articles she posts on her Twitter feed are from fake news websites such as worldtoday365.info or extremely biased right wing news websites.

Nina Morton’s account growth is staggering. Over the course of twenty eight days, she went from having a few retweets to a thousand. She began to gain hundreds of followers a day. All of this growth has continued over the past few months as her account began to shift to more propaganda and image-based content from text-based content. She went from tweeting once every other day to tweeting every other hour. The evidence above led me to believe that NinaMorton’s account is most likely a bot account, or at the very least an account used to spew fake propaganda that benefits far right-wing candidates.

In order to prove my hypothesis correct, I went onto BotCheck.me, a website designed by students from the CS department at the University of California, Berkeley to detect bots and propaganda accounts on Twitter. The bot detection service has a 93 percent accuracy rate. BotCheck.me concluded that both NinaMorton and redhead4645 were either bot accounts or political propaganda accounts.

Retweets from accounts such as the NinaMorton and redhead4645 propaganda accounts composed of the majority of Jeanne Ives mentions on Twitter. In fact, Jeanne Ives has more mentions on Twitter than she does followers and more Twitter mentions than the other Democratic candidates combined. These anomalies despite her poor polling performance is because of massive tweeting and retweeting by bot and propaganda accounts on Twitter.

Considering that these accounts tend bring in tons of retweets for candidates more extreme than the Republican establishment, I think it is safe to say that these accounts are most definitely affecting the Illinois governor race. The goal of these accounts is to not only help defeat Bruce Rauner in the primary election by attempting to increase the amount of support for Jeanne Ives but also to align the Illinois state government with the ideology of the Trump administration. The amount of tweets that she has been mentioned in is not correlated with the amount of support she actually is getting in the state of Illinois. If this were the case, her Twitter mentions would be a fifth of the nearly five thousand Twitter mentions she has as a result of bot and propaganda accounts.