Russian Troll Social Media Attacks on Presidential Candidates During the 2016 U.S. Election: The Role of Frontrunner Status, Political Party, and Candidate Gender

Larissa Terán, Heather Gahler, Daniel Montez, Kate Kenski, Stephen A. Rains


This study examines how the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) troll attacks against the 2016 U.S. presidential candidates on social media varied based on three important characteristics: frontrunner status, political party affiliation, and the gender of the candidate. The frequency of attacks, types of attacks, and audience engagement via retweets were assessed. A content analysis of 4,518 IRA troll messages posted on Twitter (i.e., tweets) shows that frontrunners, Democrats, and the female candidate received the most attacks. In terms of attack types, attacks on character/integrity occurred most frequently and were more likely to be directed at frontrunners, Democrats, and the female candidate. Tweets attacking these three groups were also more likely to be retweeted than tweets without an attack.


social media, candidate traits, political attacks, presidential campaign, frontrunners, gender

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