This article examines the growing public awareness of deceptive online campaigns where automated networks of social media bots are deployed to manipulate public opinion, disrupt debates, and stoke intercommunal strife. Drawing on a grounded thematic analysis of discussion threads that appeared on Israeli politicians’ Facebook pages during the lead-up to Israel’s national elections in April 2019, I argue that users’ frequent allusions and reactions to the presence of suspected manipulative agents allow these users to negotiate, challenge, and raise competing claims regarding whether certain prominent voices on social media are reflective of actual public opinion. As such, this article contributes to the emerging body of literature about online manipulation, which in recent years has focused mostly on examining the nature and scope of deceptive bot campaigns around the globe and on devising new techniques for detecting and countering the activities of fake social media accounts. The present investigation, in contrast, seeks to shift attention away from bots themselves and toward their intended targets: ordinary users and their discourse. In so doing, it aims to contribute to and expand the study of how automated manipulation is shaping contemporary social media environments by asking: What do ordinary users have to say about the deployment of political bots? How does users’ growing awareness of deceptive bot campaigns inform their interpretations of their own online experiences? And how do users leverage claims about bot activity in online exchanges with others to advance their political agendas?

You do not currently have access to this content.