Photo/IllutrationProfessor Fabian Schafer analyzes Twitter posts about Japan’s Lower House election in 2014. (Provided by Fabian Schafer)

Internet “bots” generated 80 percent of tweets about Japan’s Lower House election in December 2014, most of which replicated posts by “netouyo” right-wingers attacking critics of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a German researcher found.

Fabian Schafer, a professor of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg specializing in social media, studied about 540,000 election-related tweets for 22 days from Dec. 8, 2014, before and after the poll on Dec. 14.

Schafer found that about 430,000 of 540,000 tweets he examined were “retweets” or slightly modified and duplicated versions of original tweets.

Among tweets posted more than 100 times from one account, Schafer discovered that almost all the messages attacked people who opposed the LDP or the Abe administration.

“Judging from the account names, or the characteristic language and racist wording of the tweets, this activity can be attributed to ‘netouyo’ Internet right-wingers,” Schafer said.

A bot is a computer software program that can create copies or variations of existing messages and automatically post them on websites such as Twitter.

By bulk-duplicating tweets of similar content, bots can create the impression that many people are discussing a topic when the number of the actual people composing messages is much smaller.

Bulk lots of tweets can also indirectly influence opinion polls and media coverage, Schafer said.

The researcher also discovered that the word “hannichi” (anti-Japanese) appeared repeatedly among the tweets he analyzed.

“The word ‘anti-Japanese’ has spread together with the growth of social media,” Schafer said. “By labeling a person or an institution as ‘anti-Japanese,’ even completely unrelated subjects can be turned into the object of criticism. Twitter is currently flooded with the term ‘anti-Japanese,’ which was first used in right-wing magazines in the 1990s, and then appearing in online chats on the notorious bulletin board 2Channel.

“In this way, many people become aware of the term, which is thereby being turned into a commonly used word,” Schafer said.

Schafer added that bots have become more sophisticated in recent years and cautioned that the authenticity of Twitter posts should be questioned.