Twitter Musk
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A few months ago, Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, stated Twitter could help “free speech”. He declared it “a societal imperative for a functioning democracy”.

Then he bought up Twitter stocks, making him the biggest shareholder by early April 2022, more than Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey himself.

The flamboyant Tesla CEO claimed then Twitter had “tremendous potential” which he sought to “unlock”.

On April 14, Musk offered to buy Twitter for $44 billion. The board accepted. Then, Musk turned iffy, stating that Twitter has too many “bots”. He had said as much when invited to talk to Twitter staff in the staff before the buyout saga.

On Friday, he made an official filing to dump the Twitter deal. What happened?

Here’s the lowdown on bot accounts on Twitter:

What are bots?

They are an autonomous program. On Twitter, bot accounts imitate how people use the platform. They are sometimes called “spambots”, “fake accounts” or simply “bots” — all referring to non-human accounts that emulate how real account holders use Twitter. 

What are bot accounts used for?

Bots can tweet targeted content (with hashtags), share tweets, follow and be followed by other people. As an autonomous program, they can send spam to a large number of users or posts spam on online forums.

There are good and bad bots. And ones that are downright ugly.

The good ones provide service useful to people. Then there are many shades of “badness”. The worst ones leave meaningless, annoying comments on people's tweets, or are used to promote an account, or a website. They are also known as “spambots” or “fakebots”.

Because a bot account can deliver a message or publish information automatically, it can be a powerful communication tool.

How many Twitter users are there?

Twitter has approximately 450 million monthly active users (MAU), the website reported. The platform had 822 million quarterly users as of the Q2 2022, from 174 million in the second quarter a decade ago (2012), it stated.

Twitter users by country
Image Credit: Statista

Are bots allowed on Twitter?

Yes. Bots are allowed on Twitter. As mentioned earlier, the company does allow spam bot accounts that perform a service. Twitter calls them “automated bots”.

For transparency purposes, Twitter encourages many of these accounts to label themselves as bots.

The company argues that many of those accounts perform useful service, i.e. “good” bots.

The platform has even launched a label for “good” bots. Example: @tinycarebot, an account that tweets self-care reminders, Company policy, however, requires such accounts to indicate that they're automated.

When does a spam bot turn “bad"?

Twitter’s reply and mention functions are intended to make communication between Twitter users easier, automating these actions to reach many users — on an unsolicited basis, and with annoying message or frequency — is an “abuse” of the feature.

Bad spam bots aren’t permitted. Twitter defines good spam bots as automated accounts that “help people find useful, entertaining and relevant information.”

Some spam bots can turn ugly, may be used by certain state or non-state actors for nefarious purposes, engage in scams, attack celebrities|politicians or create a hostile environment for them online.

As a policy, we do not mediate content or intervene in disputes between users. However, targeted abuse or harassment may constitute a violation of the Twitter Rules and Terms of Service.

- Twitter

Is Twitter getting rid of spam bots?

Yes. Twitter has revealed it currently removes one million bots every day in order to keep its platform safe.

How many bad spam|bot|fake accounts are on Twitter?

Twitter reports that since it went public in 2013, fewer than 5 per cent of accounts are fakes| spammers|“bots.”

Elon Musk, however, has repeatedly questioned these estimates, even dismissed Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal's public response.

Why does the bot count matter to Musk?

Musk says that at least 20% — and as high as 90% — of Twitter users fall into this category.

No proof was given.

Timeline twitter
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In a six-paragraph letter on June 6, Musk’s lawyers demanded more information from Twitter, stating that the company was “refusing Mr. Musk’s data requests” to disclose the number of fake accounts on its platform.

That amounted to a “clear material breach” of the deal, the lawyers continued, saying it gave Musk the right to break off the agreement.

Some analysts say that Musk’s claims about Twitter bots are just a bargaining chip. Twitter stocks sank on Monday (July 11) to $33.37 from its Friday close of $36.82, following a 2022 peak of $54.56 in April 5.

Does twitter screen content?

No. The platform’s stated goal is “promoting a healthy public conversation.” Twitter does not screen content or remove potentially offensive content.

The platform’s user policy reads: “As a policy, we do not mediate content or intervene in disputes between users. However, targeted abuse or harassment may constitute a violation of the Twitter Rules and Terms of Service.”

Twitter has clear rules on violence, harassment and other similar types of behaviour that discourage people from expressing themselves, “and ultimately diminish the value of global public conversation.”

“Our rules are to ensure all people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely.”

What does Twitter say about spam bots?

It is a constant challenge for Twitter. Chief Executive Officer Parag Agrawal has been open about it. He admits that spam "harms the experience for real people on Twitter, and therefore can harm our business."

“Spam isn’t just ‘binary’ (human/not human). The most advanced spam campaigns use combinations of coordinated humans + automation,” he said in a thread. “They are sophisticated and hard to catch.”