Leaders or Followers? A Temporal Analysis of Tweets from IRA Trolls


  • Siva K. Balasubramanian Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Mustafa Bilgic Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Aron Culotta Tulane University
  • Libby Hemphill University of Michigan
  • Anita Nikolich University of Illinois
  • Matthew A. Shapiro Illinois Institute of Technology




Credibility of online content, Analysis of the relationship between social media and mainstream media, Trend identification and tracking; time series forecasting, Organizational and group behavior mediated by social media; interpersonal communication mediated by social media


The Internet Research Agency (IRA) influences online political conversations in the United States, exacerbating existing partisan divides and sowing discord. In this paper we investigate the IRA's communication strategies by analyzing trending terms on Twitter to identify cases in which the IRA leads or follows other users. Our analysis focuses on over 38M tweets posted between 2016 and 2017 from IRA users (n=3,613), journalists (n=976), members of Congress (n=526), and politically engaged users from the general public (n=71,128). We find that the IRA tends to lead on topics related to the 2016 election, race, and entertainment, suggesting that these are areas both of strategic importance as well as those topics of highest potential impact. Furthermore, we identify topics where the IRA has been relatively ineffective, such as tweets on military, political scandals, and violent attacks, where, despite many tweets on the topic, the IRA rarely leads the conversation, and thus has little opportunity to influence it. We offer our proposed methodology as a way to track the strategic choices of future influence operations in real-time.




How to Cite

Balasubramanian, S. K., Bilgic, M., Culotta, A., Hemphill, L., Nikolich, A., & Shapiro, M. A. (2022). Leaders or Followers? A Temporal Analysis of Tweets from IRA Trolls. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 16(1), 2-11. https://doi.org/10.1609/icwsm.v16i1.19267