Good bot, bad bot? 23 million Twitter accounts are automated

Filed Under: Featured, Spam, Twitter

In its latest quarterly filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Twitter broke down its user base, saying that up to 8.5% of its monthly active users - about 23 million - are automatons.

From the report:

Up to approximately 8.5% of all active users used third party applications that may have automatically contacted our servers for regular updates without any discernable [sic] additional user-initiated action.

Does that mean that 23 million Twitter users are actually bots?

Image of robot courtesy of ShutterstockWell, not exactly.

Twitter clarified that number with Engadget, saying that that 8.5% of accounts might not be restricted only to bots, but could also include automated processes such as publications' own Twitter feeds.

As Engadget's Mat Smith notes, Twitter's SEC filing doesn't give specifics on the numbers.

Bots, or, more specifically, Twitterbots, are programs that produce automated posts on Twitter, automatically follow Twitter users, or acquire instant followers for anybody who wants to pony up the money to buy them.

Often, they serve up spam, enticing people to click on promotional links.

Bots aren't all evil, porn- and spam-spewing squiggles of code, of course. There are also squiggles of bot code that carry out good deeds.

One example is @EarthquakesSF, a bot that live-tweets earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay area using real-time seismographic information from the US Geological Survey.

Other good-citizen bots post whenever someone edits Wikipedia from a US Congress or UK Parliament IP address.

And then there are those bots that simply tweet lovely, surreal strings.

One of my favorites is Not New Scientist, which concocts delicious things like this:

@NS_headlines

Reports of new anaconda killings hint that Edward Snowden is in trouble.

But regardless of whether a Tweetbot is serving mankind by mashing up Edward Snowden with anacondas or whether it's plaguing us with spam, what really matters, from a shareholder/fiduciary standpoint, is that none of them are real humans, and thus Twitter's viability as an advertising platform could be diluted by their presence.

In other words, as noted by Slashdot commenters, as a publicly traded company, the number of automated and potentially fraudulent Twitter users is most definitely the SEC's business.

Image of robot courtesy of Shutterstock.

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One Response to Good bot, bad bot? 23 million Twitter accounts are automated

  1. Cliff Jones · 39 days ago

    We are incessantly 'informed' that all these platforms, google, twitter, facebook, instagram etc etc, make their money from advertisements.

    In all the years of watching these things pop up (and go public) I have never been able to fathom the economics of such a claim.

    Do these companies actually make the bulk of their revenue from advertising?

    Added up, these companies allegedly represent billions of dollars of "assets." Really: is that much advertising being done?

    If you liquidated google as an example, would you really net the billions alleged by their "market capitalization?"

    If advertising is the bread and butter, well no wonder everything is sliding down the tubes. Everyday I hear nothing but layoffs, shutdowns and declining "earnings" in the news. Yesterday it was 6,000 people losing their jobs at Cisco.

    Seems the money would be better spent on improving products, innovation (R&D) supply chains and such, rather than on hoping someone hasn't installed noscript and adblock plus in their browser. (getting people to use "social media" doesn't seem to be a problem)

    I just don't buy that advertising is the driving force behind projects such as google or facebook. (..ooops, unintentional pseudo-pun)

    I think you have to look in the direction of NSA, CIA and other high-level corporate interests, building predictive profiling, gathering what should be protected private information, developing command-control grids and like shenanigans, in order to begin calculating the true profit centers of these online "social media" projects.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.