As the Musk-Twitter Deal Falls Apart We Ask, Just What Are ‘Bots’ Anyway? – Opinion

In the wake of Elon Musk’s decision to pull out of his Twitter purchase because of the social media giant’s hesitation to share information on bot accounts, one has to wonder, what are they anyway? Why are bot accounts so crucial that Hillary Clinton partly blamed their role in her 2016 election defeat on Russian bots

In late April, Twitter estimated that fake accounts and spam “accounted for less than 5 percent of its daily active users in the fourth quarter of 2021.” However, with a user base of at least 330 million, that’s still an awful lot of non-human accounts (16.5 million for the math-challenged). Musk claims that the number is higher than this, but Twitter won’t tell the truth.

“Bot” obviously derives from the word “robot,” and can also be referred to as a fake account, a spam account, a spambot, or a Twitterbot. Each one might differ slightly in its name and in its function, but essentially it comes down to the same thing: they’re little robots. These robots, though, don’t take on physical form—they’re computer codes engineered to interact on social media as if they’re real people. It’s not actually a suburban hottie, sipping white wine, who’s tweeting you; it’s a Russian dude in his underwear who’s simultaneously tweeting to 5,000 other people.

The Washington Post describes it as:

Bots on Twitter are artificial accounts that send tweets and follow others. They can also like or retweet posts from other people. Spam bots, however, use this information to engage in misleading, dangerous, and irritating activity.

A commercial bot may send out fake tweets, which appear to be from someone real, but they are in fact sent by a computer. Although they might claim to offer you great deals or freebies, in fact, the tweets are a fraud that will try to seize your cash.

Here’s something that might surprise you: bots are allowed by Twitter, but creators have to indicate when accounts are automated.  “@tinycarebot” is allowed because it’s an automated Twitter reminder service; there’s nothing pernicious about it. Spam bots that continuously send out unwelcome information are prohibited. Twitter will immediately shut down accounts that are reported by users.

Bots can also be used to help celebrities and influencers gain large followings. You can sometimes spot those by noticing the “follower-to-likes” ratio: if an account has hundreds of thousands of followers, but only a few likes per tweet, you can bet many of those followers are from fake accounts and might have been paid for.

Sometimes high-profile users don’t actively recruit fake followers, they just appear. One estimate indicates that Elon Musk himself has around 23 percent fake fans, although Joe Biden handily beats him in the department—NewsweekClaims that bots account for almost half of the tens and millions of people who are his devotees.

In elections, bots can tweet out literally millions of fake-news spam messages, claiming everything from “Hillary is an Alien” to “Trump is actually a God from Asgard.” I personally find it hard to believe that such garbage would influence many people, but many experts disagree with me on that one.

These are bots at work. Definitely watch the video; it’s pretty amazing.

Elon responded to this thread on Twitter Friday, writing, “Interesting. Who is behind the bot attack?”

Online, bots, spam email, automated phone calls, Nigerian inheritance frauds and other malware are an ever-present problem. Musk, however, isn’t just concerned that they’re annoying—he’s concerned that bots and fake accounts lower the value of Twitter, and therefore the price he negotiated to buy the company is too high. They lower the value because if a large percentage of Twitter robots are robots, that’s fewer real people to advertise to–and if the truth ever got out, advertisers would refuse to pay as much as they’re paying now. Musk also worries that bots and fake accounts diminish the user experience and that he will never get the growth he wants if users don’t like the way the platform works.

It’s hard to believe that one of the biggest tech deals in the past decade was killed by the invisible demons.

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