Linguistic Cues to Deception: Identifying Political Trolls on Social Media

  • Aseel Addawood Department of Informatics, University Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Adam Badawy Information Science Institute, University Southern California
  • Kristina Lerman Information Science Institute, University Southern California
  • Emilio Ferrara Information Science Institute, University Southern California


The ease with which information can be shared on social media has opened it up to abuse and manipulation. One example of a manipulation campaign that has garnered much attention recently was the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, with Russia accused of, among other things, using trolls and malicious accounts to spread misinformation and politically biased information. To take an in-depth look at this manipulation campaign, we collected a dataset of 13 million election-related posts shared on Twitter in 2016 by over a million distinct users. This dataset includes accounts associated with the identified Russian trolls as well as users sharing posts in the same time period on a variety of topics around the 2016 elections. To study how these trolls attempted to manipulate public opinion, we identified 49 theoretically grounded linguistic markers of deception and measured their use by troll and non-troll accounts. We show that deceptive language cues can help to accurately identify trolls, with average F1 score of 82% and recall 88%.