Elon Musk’s suspension of his bid to buy Twitter over questions about “bots” has put artificially operated accounts at the center of the latest controversy over the proposed deal.
The software is so common and can be a problem that teams of tech giants like Meta, Google and Twitter are dedicated to banning bots and cyber security agencies sell defenses against them.
Here’s a closer look at bots:
People or software?
At a basic level, “bots” are software programs that pretend to be real people, interacting with online platforms or their users, says Tamer Hassan, co-founder and head of cybersecurity firm Human.
Malicious bots have become sophisticated and one of the top cyber threats of this decade, says Hassan, whose firm specializes in isolating people from online software.
The term bot on Twitter is often used to describe fake accounts driven by certain versions of artificial intelligence, which can block posts and even respond to what others post, says independent analyst Rob Enderley.
Trouble with tickets
Hassan told AFP that bots were used in more than three-quarters of all security and fraud cases, from spreading socially divisive posts to cutting concert tickets and hacking.
“The question is, if you could look like a million people, what would you do?” Hassan asked slyly.
“Across all social media platforms, bots can be used to spread content to influence people’s opinions, gain feedback and even become cybercrime.”
Bots can be used on social media to spread false news, mislead users, lead people to special websites, and promote fake posts using shares or “likes”.
Bots on social media can also suck people into financial scandals, Hassan added.
“Social media platforms have long had bots,” said analyst Enderley. “Bots have been attached to try to influence the US election and to form an opinion about Russia’s war against Ukraine.”
Agreement with Twitter
Twitter makes money from advertising, and marketers pay to reach people, not software.
“Bot ads are not going to be a good closing rate because bots will not buy products,” Enderle noted.
If advertisers pay a Twitter fee based on how many people view the ad, and those numbers swell because of online viewers’ bots, they’re being overcharged, Anderle added.
If there are more bots on Twitter than that, it can lose revenue if those accounts are opened and closed.
Twitter chief executive Parag Agarwal says less than five per cent of active accounts on Twitter are bots on any given day, but the analysis cannot be duplicated due to the need to keep user data confidential.
Musk posted that the actual number of bots could be four times higher and said he would prefer to get rid of them if he owned the platform.
Twitter accounts have rules for automated activity, including preventing software from posting hot topics, stopping spam, trying to influence online conversations, and working across multiple accounts.
Bots are a well-known social media problem, and Musk seems to have made it a sticking point in the late acquisition process, possibly “a vehicle to survive the purchase or get a lower price,” Anderle said.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)