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Influence of augmented humans in online interactions during voting events

Abstract

The advent of the digital era provided a fertile ground for the development of virtual societies, complex systems influencing real-world dynamics. Understanding online human behavior and its relevance beyond the digital boundaries is still an open challenge. Here we show that online social interactions during a massive voting event can be used to build an accurate map of real-world political parties and electoral ranks for Italian elections in 2018. We provide evidence that information flow and collective attention are often driven by a special class of highly influential users, that we name "augmented humans", who exploit thousands of automated agents, also known as bots, for enhancing their online influence. We show that augmented humans generate deep information cascades, to the same extent of news media and other broadcasters, while they uniformly infiltrate across the full range of identified groups. Digital augmentation represents the cyber-physical counterpart of the human desire to acquire power within social systems.

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