Twitter Boss Elon Musk vows to remove Spam Bots. What are Spam Bots though?

Elon Musk is the new Twitter boss. Meanwhile, he has promised to cleanse the platform of spam bots or die trying. What are spam bots?

 |  4-minute read |   26-04-2022
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When I was experimenting with NFTs, I put out a thread on Twitter for NFT noobs like me. The threat was just a step-by-step guide on how to make your first NFT.

Almost immediately, I saw that the tweet was liked and even retweeted by some crypto/NFT handles, some verified.

Now, I don’t tweet prolifically about crypto or NFTs (it was just a one-time curious experiment), so I thought that the crypto handles liking my one-in-a-million tweet, was odd. Of course, now I understand what they were. As the handles were always selling something – either offering paid promotions of NFTs or promising ‘airdrops’ of some NFTs, they were most likely nothing but bots; even the verified ones.

Why am I talking about some bot liking my NFT tweet?

Because, the world’s richest man Elon Musk has finally achieved his dream of buying Twitter and one of his top priorities at the moment is to cleanse the platform of the spam bots, especially the crypto ones due to his interest.

Musk says he will defeat the spam bots or die trying. Though in his case, Twitterati are better off waiting and watching what he’ll really do than believing in his promises.

  • But what are these spam bots?
  • And why is Musk so adamant on removing them?
  • How are they important?

WHAT ARE SPAM BOTS?

via GIPHY

To be fair, bots exist everywhere on the internet, from Twitter to Google and mails. But right now we will be looking into Twitter bots specifically. Bots are automated Twitter accounts that are run by a software.

  • They mimic the activity of real accounts with human users – from liking, retweeting, tweeting and commenting.

  • Their goal is to inflate the popularity of a content, account or topic on a large scale.  
  • For example, you want your tweet selling a dress to be popular, but you don’t necessarily have the following or the popularity yet, nor do you want to use Twitter’s promotional feature. You cannot hire people to open up single accounts to like and retweet your product. So you use a software, which makes multiple fake accounts and begin the engagement on your tweet. They might look up the keywords ‘fashion’ and ‘dress’ and leave automated comments below tweets with the keywords.

  • Twitter bots can also be a part of a botnet network, where fake accounts follow each other, like, retweet and comment on each other’s posts. They essentially act like legitimate accounts.

WHY ARE BOTS A CONCERN?

via GIPHY

There are good bots and then there are bad bots. Twitter in a 2021 blog post titled ‘Four truths about bots’, gave examples of good bots. Handles like @tinycarebot send automated feel good tweets and comments. Then there are bad bots:

  • Bots can run a scam. The picture below depicts how a bot tried to steal money from someone on Twitter.

  • They can post mass malicious links and commit financial fraud.
  • In the case of crypto, these bots can steal wallet information and then everything inside the wallet by targetting keywords.

  • In political discourse, bad state actors can also manipulate the conversation and become an obstruction to free speech. In India, ruling party BJP is often accused of running a troll army for this very purpose (remember Tek Fog?). Russia was also accused of hiring people in Ghana to run fake accounts targetting the US.  
  • They can also run misinformation campaigns. A Carnegie Mellon University study in fact showed an uptick in bot activity in the US when it was under Covid-induced lockdown.

  • Other than that, they are a general nuisance.

ELON MUSK AND BOTS

TBH, David Kirsch, a professor at the University of Maryland, in a series of tweets claimed from the time Tesla launched IPO to 2020, a significant number of ‘fanbots’ drove the pro-Tesla narrative using the #TSLA AND $TSLA. On the other hand, counter-narrative around #TSLAQ and $TSLAQ were mostly human users.

Kirsch said there was market impact due to the bots, as stock activity remained positive. So it is possible that Elon Musk himself may be benefitting from the bots.

It’s not just Elon Musk who’s benefitted from bots. In 2018, Twiplomacy claimed that a massive percentage of followers of world leaders on Twitter were bots.

But Musk also faces some challenges in achieving a bot cleanse:

  • His other promise to make Twitter’s algorithm open source may work against the bot cleanse promise.

  • Some human users in conflict areas and lack of free speech access use Twitter under pseudonyms and bot-like features. But they are real human users, who genuinely need the platform to express their opinion.

No one knows what Twitter is going to look like a few months down the line, with all the major changes. Whether Musk is able to solve the bot crisis or not needs to be seen.

Writer

Amrutha Pagad Amrutha Pagad @amrutha_pagad

Amrutha loves writing on Humour, Politics, Environment and Gender. She is a Senior Sub editor at DailyO.

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