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Good Bot? Bad Bot? Twitter Says Both

Elon Musk’s newfound concern about spam and fake Twitter accounts revives old question.
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Elon Musk put his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter  (TWTR) - Get Twitter, Inc. Report on hold Friday, as he questioned whether the company’s estimate of spam and fake accounts on the service was accurate.

“Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users,” Musk tweeted.

Twitter routinely publishes its estimates of the number of problematic accounts in its quarterly reports.

It has pegged its bot total at about 5% of accounts since 2013.

“The average of false or spam accounts during the first quarter of 2022 represented fewer than 5% of our mDAU (monetizable daily active users) during the quarter,” Twitter said in its latest quarterly SEC filing.

However, there are caveats in that statement.

“In making this determination, we applied significant judgment, so our estimation of false or spam accounts may not accurately represent the actual number of such accounts, and the actual number of false or spam accounts could be higher than we have estimated,” the report reads.

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Negotiation Tactic?

Some have suggested that Musk's move is an attempt to renegotiate the deal's price, given sharp declines in Twitter and Tesla shares since it was announced.  

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TheStreet Recommends

Twitter shares are trading about 25% below the agreed purchase price, suggesting considerable doubt on Wall Street that the deal will actually go through. 

If it doesn't go through, an expensive and protracted legal battle over breakup fees seems inevitable.

To Bot or Not

Twitter has argued in the past that not all bots are equal and some can actually be useful.

“Not all forms of automation are necessarily violations of the Twitter Rules. We've seen innovative and creative uses of automation to enrich the Twitter experience,” the company wrote in a blog post about the issue. 

“Automation can also be a powerful tool in customer service interactions,” it added.

However, malicious actors clearly take advantage of technology as well. 

By some estimates in 2020, nearly half of the Twitter accounts tweeting about coronavirus were suspected bots, NPR reported at the time. 

Twitter says its rules prohibit:

  • 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")