Title: Artificial Intelligence for Autocrats: How Government-Sponsored Bots Fight Opposition in Russia
Abundant anecdotal evidence suggests that non-democracies employ new digital technologies known as social media bots to facilitate their policies domestically and abroad, even in advanced democracies. However, no previous attempts have been made to systematically analyze the strategies behind the political use of bots. This paper seeks to fill this gap by developing and empirically testing a set of hypotheses about the strategic use of Twitter bots in Russia. We test two macro-theories of bot activation as a response to offline protests or a reaction to domestic cyberconflict. In addition, we develop and test more fine-grained hypotheses about specific strategies for the use of bots. We show that although both macro-theories receive empirical support, the observed effects are more pronounced for the domestic cyberconflict theory. These results have implications for the theories of state propaganda and disinformation in modern competitive authoritarian regimes for both domestic and international audiences.