1. What are Twitter bots and what are they used for?
On Twitter, bots are automated accounts that can do the same things as real people: send tweets, follow other users, and like and retweet others’ posts. Spambots use these capabilities to perform potentially deceptive, malicious, or annoying activities. Spambots programmed with a commercial motivation may tweet incessantly in an attempt to drive traffic to a website for a product or service. They can be used to spread misinformation and promote political messages. In the 2016 presidential election, there were concerns that Russian bots influenced the race in favor of the winner, Donald Trump. Spambots can also spread links to fake giveaways and other financial scams. After announcing his plans to take over Twitter, Musk said one of his priorities is to tackle spam bots promoting cryptocurrencies scams.
2. Are bots and fake accounts allowed on Twitter?
Bots are allowed on Twitter, although company policy requires such accounts to indicate that they are automated. The platform has even launched a label for “good” bots, such as @tinycarebot, an account that tweets self-care reminders. However, spambots are not allowed and the company has policies to combat them. Users are encouraged to report policy violations. The company is locking down accounts with suspicious activity. To regain access, users may need to provide additional information, such as a phone number or solve a reCAPTCHA challenge, which involves completing a puzzle or typing a sentence into an image to confirm they are human. Twitter can also permanently suspend spam accounts. The company estimated that fake accounts and spam accounted for less than 5% of its daily active users in the fourth quarter of 2021.
3. Can Elon Musk tackle bots?
Musk certainly seems to think so. On April 25, he said he wanted to improve Twitter by, among other things, “beating the spam bots and authenticating all people”. Increasing the use of security methods such as reCAPTCHA can help fight spam bots. Twitter could increase the deployment of multi-factor authentication, a type of identity verification that requires users to confirm who they are and that they are human by using another channel, such as phone or email. The company could also encourage the use of machine learning algorithms that can help identify spam bots based on their Twitter activity.
4. What’s at stake for Twitter?
Twitter can lose users frustrated, concerned, or even harmed by spam bots and fraudulent activity. Ongoing security vulnerabilities could also draw more attention from regulators looking to curb Twitter and the wider tech industry. On the other hand, a tougher crackdown on spam bots could hurt Twitter’s overall user base by cleaning up fake accounts. More immediately, Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc. and SpaceX, on May 13 that its bid to buy Twitter was “temporarily on hold” pending details on the number of spam and fake accounts on the platform.
5. Why is security such a challenge for Twitter?
Mobile apps are often more vulnerable than websites accessed through an internet browser on a desktop computer or laptop. Web browsers like Google Chrome update and implement security improvements in the background without a user noticing. When it comes to a mobile app, users often have to update themselves to make sure there is a new security patch. More established tech companies like Google and Microsoft also have large designated security teams that put them ahead of social media companies when it comes to security.
More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com