Bot-army: Krusevac and Sabac are the most active, and Mali Zvornik and Novi Knezevac are the first “per capita”

Fake News Tragač

Original article (in Serbian) was published on 08/07/2023; Authors: Stefan Kosanović, Ivan Subotić i Stefan Janjić

The day before yesterday, the Twitter account @protivdictature published a table which – as stated – listed “all bots”, along with “name, surname, district, city and links to accounts on Twitter”.

Is this table of SNS online activists credible? Considering the amount of data, but also certain (visible) inaccuracies during entry, it is impossible to claim that everything stated is correct. However, judging by the initial reactions and information, including the information obtained by our editorial office, there is no room for major complaints about authenticity. In this text, we will use the terms “bot” and “botting”, recognizable to the domestic public, although a more adequate term for the described type of activity would be “astroturfing”.

From tweeting to “hitting pluses and minuses”

We have contacted one of the persons whose name is on the list. He confirmed to us that his personal data (name, surname, district and municipality) are correct, as well as information about the accounts he is in charge of. In a short exchange of messages, he states that he was not paid extra for “botting”, but thereby “justifies” his position in a local institution. He is qualified for the job he got and has completed his graduate studies. His activities on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok are affirmative: he likes and shares content related to SNS, but does not engage in discussions with other users. Although he was asked to act more aggressively, he did not agree to it. His performance, including “hitting pluses and minuses” on web portals, is monitored and scored via a central platform. BIRN wrote about the “bot account” management system in 2020 in this analysis.

Three years ago, Twitter announced that it had removed 8.5 thousand accounts that were in the service of the Serbian Progressive Party. More than 40 million tweets were published from those accounts, and Daniel Bush from the Stanford Internet Observatory conducted an analysis dealing with the characteristics of SNS “bots” and their posts.

3,162 people are “botting”

According to the new table, from June 27, the Serbian Progressive Party has around 4,800 bot accounts at its disposal on Twitter, while the number of such accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok is fairly uniform and amounts to around 3,200.

As can be seen, one person is usually in charge of managing multiple accounts and presents himself under different false identities. We tried to determine the total number of individuals who are engaged in this system and we reached 3,162 people, by looking for the number of unique combinations of the fields “name and surname” and “municipality”. This estimate should be taken with a grain of salt since there is a chance that two different people from the same municipality have the same first and last name.

Krusevac in the leading position

Judging by the data from the table, the most active bot hotspot is in Krusevac (87 people), followed by Sabac (70) and Leskovac (63). The average number of bots per active municipality/city is 20 – if the data is to be believed – all municipalities of Kosovo and Metohija, as well as Bosilegrad, Crna Trava, Doljevac, Gadzin Han, Presevo, Trgoviste and Tutin are currently bot-free.

If we look at the total number of bot accounts on all networks, the most active is Sabac (390), followed by Krusevac (355) and Leskovac (277). Among the active municipalities, only Cajetina, Medvedja and Majdanpek have a single-digit number of bot accounts.

We have prepared an abbreviated table with the 20 most active municipalities in both categories, while the entire table can be downloaded here.

Broj nalogaBroj individua
Novi Bečej259Novi Bečej54
Kraljevo241Bela Crkva49
Bela Crkva215Kraljevo48
Pančevo185Novi Sad – grad41
Novi Sad – grad172Mali Zvornik38
Mali Zvornik162Žabalj36

Number of bots “per capita”

Finally, we were also interested in the number of bots “per capita”. We compared the information from the table with the data from the last census. Mali Zvornik and Novi Knezevac (0.32%) are tied at the top of the table, followed by Bela Crkva (0.31%), Coka (0.30%) and Srbobran (0.28%).