Skip to main content

Musk Calls Time Out on Twitter Deal Over Bout With Bots

The world's richest man presses the pause button on his Twitter acquisition over a filing about bots.
  • Author:
  • Publish date:

Last month, Elon Musk was ready to go to war.

Tesla's  (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc Report CEO had put in his bid to buy Twitter  (TWTR) - Get Twitter, Inc. Report and he took aim at one of its most hated features.

"If our twitter bid succeeds, we will defeat the spam bots or die trying!" he tweeted.

'Still Committed to Acquisition'

The world's richest man followed up with "And authenticate all real humans."

However, it seems now that Musk is waving the white flag in his spam bot crusade--or at least calling for a truce.

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

Musk added that he was "Still committed to acquisition."

The initial tweet was linked to a May 2 Reuters story, which was based upon a regulatory filing stating Twitter had 229 million users who viewed consistent ads, adding that fewer than 5% of its so-called "monetizable daily active users" were false or spam accounts.

Musk is relying on the value of Tesla's stock to fund the $44 billion deal and the electric vehicle maker's shares have declined $400 billion since he announced his plans to buy the microblogging website.

'You Were Bluffing the Entire Time'

"It looks like I was right all along. You never actually intended to buy #Twitter," economist Peter Schiff responded. "You were bluffing the entire time. How many Twitter shares did you sell before tweeting this announcement?"

"Translation: Twitter deal on hold because Elon Musk never really wanted to buy it, and is now looking for reasons to avoid the $1 billion fine," another person commented.

Journalist Molly Jong-Fast posted an image of the Reuters headline and asked "you didn’t see this 11 days ago?"

Analysts at Hindenburg Research, a noted short-seller, said Musk could pay the $1 billion break-up fee tied to the takeover and still come away with a better deal if he were to re-negotiate, noting his "significant leverage" over Twitter and the lack of a competing offer.

Twitter users have complained for several years about the number of bots attacking accounts for economic, political or personal reasons.

So what's this bot business all about?

'Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior'

Bot, which is short for "robot," is a computer program that operates as an agent for a user or other program or to simulate a human activity.

Scroll to Continue

TheStreet Recommends

A Twitter bot is a type of bot software that controls an account via the Twitter API, or application programming interface.

In March Twitter banned more than 100 accounts that pushed the pro-Russian hashtag #IStandWithPutin for participating in “coordinated inauthentic behavior."

Bots usually operate over a network and more than half of internet traffic is bots scanning content, interacting with webpages, chatting with users, or looking for attack targets, according to Cloudflare's  (NET) - Get Cloudflare Inc Class A Report website.

While some bots, such as search engine bots, are useful, spam bots spread spam across the internet, often scraping contact information, creating fake user accounts, or operating stolen social media accounts.

If a site undergoes a sudden, unprecedented and unexpected spike in pageviews,  Cloudflare said "it’s likely that there are bots clicking through the site."

A spike in traffic from an unexpected location is another bot indicator, 

"Bad bots are the major pandemic ravaging the internet," security-software maker Imperva said in its Bad Bot Report 2021. "Their notorious ability to mimic human interactions in highly persuasive ways helps them remain undetected."

These automated threats, the report said, "consistently top the list of concerns for many businesses and security practitioners."

'An Infodemic'

The report said that at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, "we identified bad bots posting comment spam on social media, leading to concerns over a global spread of fake pharmacy fraud."

"Social media bots have also been used to spread fake news ranging from the connection of 5G and Coronavirus to stories of hospitals being filled with mannequins," the report said. "Often, these messages included links that led to phishing attacks."

The World Health Organization, the report said, has dubbed the spreading of misinformation an “infodemic."

The United States has been at the top of bad bot traffic originating countries, the report said, followed by China, the United Kingdom and Russia.

Bad bots have pushed their way into the political arena.  

A study by researchers at the University of Southern California found that during the 2020 presidential election between incumbent Donald Trump and Joe Biden the majority of bots promoted right-leaning political conspiracies like QAnon and politically biased narratives about the origins of and treatments for Covid-19.

"Bots almost exclusively retweeted original posts by Twitter users who are human, the scientists noted," the report said. "In turn, many humans retweeted the bots’ messages that aligned with their political leanings, which then led to additional retweets and replies."

Imperva has several recommendations for combatting bots, including using CAPTCHA, blocking know hosting providers and proxy services and monitoring traffic sources carefully.