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Darren Linvill has earned an unusual moniker over the last eight months. He’s spent so much time studying the habits of those that would abuse Twitter to subvert political discourse, his colleagues in Clemson’s communication department now call him “the troll whisperer.”
Linvill and College of Business faculty member Patrick Warren have spent months studying the activities of social media accounts created by Russian agencies to negatively influence election cycles and political discourse. They’ve studied how these “trolls” achieve their goals and what the timing and frequency of posts have to say about their intentions and efficacy, and they’re getting national attention for their work.
Twitter has not supplied much detail regarding the scope of social media attacks coming from Russia, only giving specific numbers from the weeks prior to the election. Researchers working with NBC news identified a little over 200,000 tweets which they published online back in February. Linvill and Warren, however, have downloaded over 3 million individual tweets, a striking figure and well more than Twitter’s “official” revelations.
Patrick Warren is a professor in Clemson’s John E. Walker Department of Ecomonics.
“The numbers during this immediate lead up to the election are important, but we’ve looked at data from months before that and the time since,” Linvill said. “The activity isn’t limited to a few weeks and we believe the impact on Twitter has been grossly underreported.”
By using resources on Clemson’s campus and a little ingenuity, Linvill and Warren have discovered data that flies in the face of all previous reports on the subject of Twitter trolls, but the work has been fraught with challenges and long hours.
Linvill first approached Warren in December 2017 to investigate the issue. With all the news surrounding Russian trolls on Facebook, they both agreed they should at least attempt to use …