Earlier this month, author Chuck Wendig was fired from Marvel Comics before he was able to complete the Star Wars: Shadow of Vader miniseries and another, yet-announced Star Wars project. The news came courtesy of Wendig's Twitter account (he has since compiled his side of the story in a blog post, while Marvel has declined to comment), where the writer confirmed that he was fired due to the controversial content of his social media posts. Wendig said that Marvel considered his tweets too political, too vulgar and too negative.
Essentially, by putting Wendig on one of its premier creative teams, Marvel opened itself to scrutiny due to the author's lack of civility online, and people had seemingly noticed. However, a recent examination of Twitter bots that mentioned Wendig's name around the time of his firing calls into question exactly how many people who saw and posted about the author were, in fact, people.
Bethany Lacina, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Rochester, posted to Twitter on Thursday a graph showing bot activity referencing Wendig at three points: when Wendig first posted a long, vitriolic storm of tweets in response to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court; ComicsGate founder Ethan Van Sciver's tweet linking to one of his YouTube videos about Wendig's dissatisfaction; and Wendig's announcement that he had been fired from Marvel.
The graph breaks down the bot activity across the three different events, comparing the chatter of bots, anonymous and puppet accounts. In this case, Lacina has defined "bots" as Twitter accounts that are fully automated, "anonymous" as accounts with no user description and "puppets" as accounts with more than 70 tweets per day. The graph reveals that the number of bot accounts posting about Wendig spiked after Van Sciver's tweet and then spiked again after Wendig announced he had been fired. Another graph posted by Lacina reveals the number of normal and verified accounts mentioning Wendig during the specified timeframe.
Lacina then combined the data from the two graphs to reveal that roughly 20 percent of tweets about Wendig during the timeframe were bots, and that that 19 percent of the accounts posting were bots -- none of which are real people eager to share genuine opinions. While it's hard to draw any solid conclusions about the data, the various graphs reveal how easy it is for the tide of public conversation to be pulled one way or the other based on how many bot networks are at play on social media at any given time.