Junk News and Bots during the German Parliamentary Election: What are German Voters Sharing over Twitter?
Automation and propaganda can significantly impact public life during important policy debates, elections, and political crises. We collected Twitter data on bot activity and junk news using a set of hashtags related to the 2017 German Parliamentary Election for a ten-day period in September 2017. We find that (1) traffic about the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) accounts for a surprisingly large portion of Twitter activity given that party’s share of voter support. (2) The impact of political bots was minor overall, with highly automated accounts generating a small fraction of the Twitter traffic about the election, and most of the bots working in the service of the far-right AfD. (3) Finally, we find that German social media users shared four links to professional news sources for every one link to junk news. Comparing across countries and over time, we demonstrate that this level of professional news consumption is consistently higher than is the case in the US and UK, but lower than in France, and that the level of automation in German Twitter increased only slightly between the Presidential election campaign of February 2017 and the Parliamentary election campaign of September 2017.