The Real-World Effects Of Twitter’s Massive Bot Problem

Amber Dawson | November 17th, 2021

Surprise, surprise, Twitter has a bot problem! The social media platform is inundated with fake accounts. What used to be a strength of the platform – its real-time commentary on world events – now leaves users wondering if the news they’re consuming is even true. The infiltration of bots means literal bad news. 

It’s estimated that between 5-15% of Twitter accounts are fake, but it’s likely that the true figure is much higher. 

Why? For starters, Twitter is verifying fake accounts; if they are confused as to what’s real and what’s not, what chance do users have?

How Fake Accounts Take Control

Like the bots on Facebook, Twitter bots aim to spread misinformation, create divides, and push political and social agendas. Twitter reportedly removed over 20,000 fake accounts that were linked to Saudi, Serbian and Egyptian governments.

And that’s just the start. Twitter also removed 1,500 fictional accounts created by pro-Trump supporters to troll liberal voters citing “intentionally misleading election-related content” and eventually banned Donald Trump himself due to “incitement of violence.” It’s a never-ending game of cat and mouse. 

There are many successful examples of bots impacting real-world events. A Carnegie Mellon study analyzed how they affected the COVID-19 pandemic and found over 200 million tweets on the topic were from fake accounts; of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82% were bots. 

Similarly, when the USA locked down in 2020, nearly half of the Twitter accounts discussing ‘reopening America’ were fake. This convinces genuine users that they should hop on the bandwagon because everyone else is talking about it, when in fact, it’s an artificially created conversation. 

Bots attempt to rile the public into a social media frenzy by spreading fake news and conspiracy theories. Because there’s such a huge number of them saying the same thing, unsuspecting users think this is a true reflection of what’s going on in the world. 

For example, when Australia’s bush fires were burning, the sheer amount of misinformation being shared was staggering. People that are thousands of miles away don’t know what is real or not, so are easily fooled. 

Without Twitter stepping in and policing the situation, things quickly spiral out of control.  

Does Twitter Even Know How Many Accounts Are Fake? 

Twitter has repeatedly failed to police bot accounts and their influence. Every few months, they’ll announce they’ve blocked a few more million fake accounts, but this is lip service compared to the measures they should be taking to protect users online. 

The lack of transparency around what Twitter is doing to combat bots suggests they aren’t clear how many even plague their platform. What is clear, however, is that they’re not doing enough to tackle them. 

The social media platform has a history of introducing measures that don’t go far enough. Back in 2016, the impact of bots on the presidential election was broadcast for the world to see. As a result, political ads were banned in November 2020. But, all this has done is push bot farms to become active in ‘organic’ conversations. 

Now, five years later, things haven’t got any better, leaving users to track how many fake followers they have themselves. 

Their latest attempt to provide more transparency into how many bots there are is to begin labeling ‘good bots’; automated accounts designed to retweet the news, for example, will be tagged to inform users that they’re interacting with a bot. 

But, as we’ve highlighted, ‘good bots’ aren’t the problem, and these small, reactive moves will never be enough.

Don’t Mix Bots And Brands

As more and more people become savvy to Twitter’s unreliable narrative, this impacts how users engage with businesses. Because there’s no policing of fake news or those who fuel the conversations, a toxic environment has emerged where users don’t know who to trust. 

This hasn’t been helped by brands who have tried to harness bots to their advantage; when Amazon was under fire about poor working conditions, fake accounts rushed to their defense about how great it was to be employed by them. It’s fair to say people weren’t convinced. 

If you rely on Twitter to generate awareness for your brand, it’s no longer enough to create ads and trust their algorithm to show them to the right people. 

After all, if they can’t tell the difference between who’s real and who’s fake, then how can they drive legitimate traffic to your ads? 

With distrust in the air, things such as bot comments on your ads will directly impact the perception of your brand. 

By allowing bots to run rampant, Twitter is putting advertisers in a dangerous position. It’s important to protect your ads from bots and ensure they’re only being shown to legitimate users. Otherwise, you’re just paying to fuel the problem. 

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