Has Elon Musk been right about Twitter’s bot issue?

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Elon Musk may soon face a legal battle with Twitter in Delaware over whether he should be forced to buy the social media company. Musk’s reason for withdrawing? Bots. Specifically, how many bots are running wild on Twitter.

Has Elon Musk been right about Twitter's bot issue - Freedom Tech

Musk has claimed that Twitter has not provided enough data on the platform’s number of bots — automated accounts that can be benign but can also be used for nefarious purposes such as bilking users out of their money through get-rich-quick schemes — in his attempt to back out of the $44 billion deal.

According to Musk, Twitter significantly underestimates the number of bots on the social network when it claims they account for less than 5% of its monetizable daily active users. Musk has estimated, without providing a source, that bots account for 20% or more of Twitter’s user accounts.

But, for the sake of argument, suppose Musk’s prediction is correct and Twitter’s numbers are significantly off. If this is true, the social network will almost certainly face serious consequences from advertisers and users.

If there are too many bots, advertisers will not get their money’s worth when they buy ads on the platform. For users, this means that fewer people are seeing their tweets than they thought.

Twitter claims in its lawsuit against Musk that it has “bent over backwards” to provide him with plenty of information about how it calculates the number of bots on the platform. Furthermore, the company claims to have been using the 5% estimate for years, and that it “applies significant judgment” when counting bots.

Nonetheless, Twitter admits in a securities filing that “the actual number of false or spam accounts may be higher than we estimate.”

What if Twitter actually has more bots than it has reported?

The vast majority of Twitter’s revenue is generated by advertisements. Every time you scroll through your timeline, you see them in promoted tweets. Even if you are not a golf fan, you’ll see tweets from The Golf Channel.

Twitter generated $1.11 billion of its total $1.2 billion in revenue from advertising in the first quarter of 2022. That accounts for more than 90% of its revenue. To say that Twitter relies on advertising to grow its business is an understatement. The same is true for its cohorts, which include Meta, Snap, TikTok, and Alphabet.

Twitter earns money based on how many people actually see advertisements on the platform. After all, if you’re a brand, you want real people to see your ad and possibly buy whatever you’re selling.

Bots do not buy specialized shampoo, drive cars, or watch The Golf Channel. They are only there to send out tweets. Twitter’s claim that less than 5% of its monetizable daily active users are bots is intended to assuage advertisers’ concerns that their ads aren’t being seen by real people.

If Musk is correct, and 20 percent or more of Twitter’s monetizable daily active users are bots rather than real people, advertisers are setting their money on fire when they buy ads on the platform.

Not only advertisers would chastise Twitter if its bot estimates were too low. The majority of users prefer to communicate with other people rather than automated programs. If the bot count reaches 20% or higher, as Musk claims, users may abandon Twitter as well.

Bots are a complex issue for Twitter and its Members.

It’s difficult to keep track of bots on a platform with 229 million monetizable daily active users. Twitter claims that it measures bots using both automated and manual processes with sample sets of accounts.

“The difficult challenge is that many accounts that appear to be fake on the surface are actually real people.” And some of the spam accounts that are actually the most dangerous — and cause the most harm to our users — can appear completely legitimate on the surface,” Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal explained, via Twitter.

But not all bots are created equal. Some can be programmed to tweet like actual humans, fooling even the most knowledgeable experts. It’s not like these accounts have signs that say, “Hello, I’m a robot.”

Not all bots are harmful. Some will automatically provide you with sports scores, alarm clocks, or the most recent news stories based on key topics you’re interested in.

So far, Musk’s claim that Twitter is infested with bots remains just that a claim. Meanwhile, Twitter has given itself a lot of leeway in describing the difficulties of counting bots. /Freedom Tech

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