Jagran Explainer: What are Twitter bots - the cause of spat between Elon Musk and Parag Agrawal

Elon Musk's recent spat with Parag Agrawal has once again raised questions over Twitter that why it allows bots on its platform. Let's try to understand the concept of bots and why Twitter has allowed them.

By Aalok Sensharma
Tue, 17 May 2022 05:09 PM IST
Minute Read
Jagran Explainer: What are Twitter bots - the cause of spat between Elon Musk and Parag Agrawal
Reuters image used for representation

New York (US) | Jagran Business Desk: Twitter bots have caused a row across the globe after Tesla Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Elon Musk gave an ultimatum to Twitter Inc, saying his USD 44 billion offer would not move forward until the social media platform shows proof that spam bots account for less than 5 per cent of its total users.

"20 per cent fake/spam accounts, while 4 times what Twitter claims, could be *much* higher. My offer was based on Twitter's SEC filings being accurate. Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of <5 pe cent. This deal cannot move forward until he does," Musk tweeted.

This has once again raised questions over Twitter that why it allows bots on its platform. Let's try to understand the concept of bots, why Twitter has allowed them, and what's next for the company.

What are Twitter bots?

Before we begin, you need to understand that a Twitter bot is not managed by a person, but by bot software. The bot software manages that account via the Twitter application programming interface (API) and is responsible for "tweeting, re-tweeting, liking, following, unfollowing, or direct messaging other accounts".

"...There’s a lot of understandable confusion and we need to do a better job of explaining ourselves. In sum, a bot is an automated account — nothing more or less," said Twitter in a blog post.

The micro-blogging website has also laid down guidelines for bots and said they are prohibited if they are:

- Malicious use of automation to undermine and disrupt the public conversation, like trying to get something to trend

- Artificial amplification of conversations on Twitter, including through creating multiple or overlapping accounts

- Generating, soliciting, or purchasing fake engagements

- Engaging in bulk or aggressive tweeting, engaging, or following

- Using hashtags in a spammy way, including using unrelated hashtags in a tweet (aka "hashtag cramming")

"Our technological power to proactively identify and remove these behaviors across our service is more sophisticated than ever. We permanently suspend millions of accounts every month that are automated or spammy, and we do this before they ever reach an eyeball in a Twitter Timeline or Search," it said in its blog post.

Why are bots allowed on Twitter?

There is no clarity why bots are allowed on Twitter. However, some suggest that they reduce the dependency of companies on humans which is why Twitter has allowed bots. According to a report by Reuters, 9 to 15 per cent of Twitter users are actually bots.

What does Twitter have to say?

According to Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, less than 5 per cent of users are bot-like spans. However, on Monday, he clarified that several accounts with bot-like spam behaviour are managed by real people.

"Our actual internal estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5% – based on the methodology outlined above. The error margins on our estimates give us confidence in our public statements each quarter," he said in a series of tweets.

"Unfortunately, we don’t believe that this specific estimation can be performed externally, given the critical need to use both public and private information (which we can’t share). Externally, it’s not even possible to know which accounts are counted as mDAUs on any given day," he said.

"There are LOTS of details that are very important underneath this high-level description. We shared an overview of the estimation process with Elon a week ago and look forward to continuing the conversation with him, and all of you," he added.

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