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Evidence of bots in the Virginia gubernatorial race

Empty chairs are seen at a polling place Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Alexandria. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

There is evidence that social media bots helped stir online activity around a controversial ad against Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie in the buildup to election day today, The Washington Post reports. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam's campaign cited a third-party analysis that found automated Twitter accounts tweeted using terms linked to groups behind the ad, allegedly inflaming online tensions.

Why it matters: Similar automated social media accounts helped to stir online chatter over divisive issues on a national scale during the presidential election last year. Facebook, Google and Twitter came under fire on Capitol Hill last week over how Russian actors used their sites to spread controversial content and ads.

What the analysis found: 13 of the top 15 Twitter accounts that posted words linked to the ad, which a group ran targeting Gillespie, were fully or partially automated and generated by software. The study by Discourse Intelligence was paid for by the Virginia Education Association as an in-kind service to Northam's campaign, the Post reports.

Big picture: The Virginia race, which is often seen as a bellwether for the country, comes to a close today. Republicans will be watching the results to see whether an establishment Republican can adopt Trump-style tactics to win over voters, and Democrats will be trying to ride on Trump's low polling numbers.