Political Bot Bias in the Perception of Online Discourse

Shane Schweitzer*, Kyle S.H. Dobson, Adam Waytz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Four nationally representative studies (N = 1,986; three preregistered) find evidence for a bias in how people perceive opposing viewpoints expressed through online discourse. These studies elucidate a political bot bias, where political partisans (vs. their out-party) are more likely to view counter-ideological (vs. ideologically consistent) tweets to be social media bots (vs. humans). Study 1 demonstrates that American Democrats and Republicans are more likely to attribute tweets to bots when those tweets express counter-ideological views. Study 2 demonstrated this bias with actual bot tweets generated by the Russian government and comparable human tweets. Study 3 demonstrated this bias manifests in the context of real recent elections and is associated with markers of political animosity. Study 4 experimentally demonstrates the consequences of bot attribution for perceptions of online political discourse. Our findings document a consistent bias that has implications for political discussion online and political polarization more broadly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-244
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • cognitive bias
  • political polarization
  • social media bots
  • social processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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