Fake accounts and spam: understand the problem that made Elon Musk temporarily suspend the purchase of Twitter | Technology

Elon Musk announced this Friday (13) that he has temporarily suspended the purchase of Twitter so that the company can present data on the number of bots and fake accounts on its platform. According to the billionaire, details of the calculations recently revealed by the social network are missing.

Twitter data indicates that fake profiles and those used for posting spam messages represent 5% of the network’s base of 229 million active users.

Hours after asking for more information about the fake accounts on the service, Musk took to Twitter to say he “remains committed” to the $44 billion purchase of the social network.

Musk published that the purchase of Twitter was on hold. — Photo: Reproduction

The tycoon has already publicly expressed his concern about the possibility that the social network is “dying”. In addition to the fake profiles, Musk points out that several celebrity accounts have a lot of followers but don’t have content posted frequently on the platform.

See what the main doubts are and how the social network can tackle the problem.

What are bots, fake accounts and spam profiles?

In summary, bots or robots are accounts controlled by a computer program that can do all the actions of a regular Twitter user: like content, follow other users, publish and retweet posts.

This type of account can be used for several purposes: from informing whenever a certain profile posts a new message to disseminating fake news. (Learn more about the malicious use of bots on Twitter)

Already fake accounts or fake profiles are accounts that represent a person, organization or company that does not actually exist on social media. They can be created using names, information and photos of celebrities, fictional characters or even misuse of third party data.

Not necessarily a fake profile is a robot. Both on Twitter and on other social networks there are profiles that are used and updated by real users.

already the called spam bots use these actions for activities that could be harmful, such as excessive marketing for a particular company or spreading lies to influence users’ opinion about an issue or policy.

In the case of robots involved in scams, they can also be called scam bots. Elon Musk himself commented in a recent interview that he is constantly bumping into scams that use the promise of cryptocurrency profits to attract victims.

How many fake accounts does Twitter have?

It is not possible to get an exact number of how many fake accounts there are on the social network. In its latest earnings report sent to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Twitter claims to be aware that “there are several fake or spam accounts on the platform”.

The company estimates that they represent 5% of the social network’s 229 million active user base. Which means there would be around 11.5 million accounts. But Twitter itself recognizes that this information may be different.

“Our estimate of fake or spam accounts may not accurately represent the actual number of such accounts, and the actual number of fake or spam accounts may be greater than we estimate,” the document sent by the social network to the SEC states.

According to the document, the social network team applied “significant judgment” to arrive at this data. That is, it is not possible to say how much this estimate was influenced or what criteria the company used to arrive at the information..

Curiosamente, após o anúncio do acordo com Musk, um movimento atípico no Twitter chamou a atenção de especialistas: perfis conservadores, incluindo o do próprio presidente Jair Bolsonaro (PL), ganharam milhares de novos seguidores.

In an interview with BBC Brasil, the CEO of the BotSentinel platform, Christopher Bouzy, says that these accounts are not “organic”. Twitter, on the other hand, said the oscillations appear to have occurred naturally.

Elon Musk and Twitter: An Old and Controversial Relationship

What does Elon Musk think about the matter?

In April, the executive said that this type of automated account would be his main target when taking control of the social network.

“Frankly, my top priority would be to eliminate spam bots and scams [scam] and the bot armies that exist on Twitter. They make the product so much worse,” Musk said in an interview during the TED event.

Musk even joked that he would like to have a “dogecoin for every cryptocurrency scam” he has ever seen. The tycoon is an enthusiast of virtual currencies such as dogecoin, and he often tweets about it on his profile.

What harm can bots cause?

The malicious use of automated profiles can negatively influence social networks and, in some cases, financially harm users.

The main negative impacts, according to Twitter itself, are:

  • malicious use of automation to undermine or disrupt a public conversation, such as trying to trend something;
  • artificial enlargement of conversations on Twitter, including through the creation of multiple or overlapping accounts;
  • generate transactions involving scams;
  • repetitively and abusively using hashtags, including unrelated terms in a tweet to artificially inflate a topic.

The social network says that it remains proactive in the search for and exclusion of these behaviors.

How does Twitter handle the problem?

The social network allows bots on its platform as long as these accounts are flagged. In addition, the company says it pulls these profiles out of its estimates of active users.

“We are continually looking to improve our ability to estimate the total number of spam accounts and eliminate them from the user count, and we have made improvements to our detection capabilities that have resulted in the suspension of large numbers of spam, malicious automation, and fake accounts” , says Twitter’s latest results document.

A survey carried out by Twitter itself in 2021 revealed that the large amount of bots and fake accounts were the main concern of users of the platform.

In a post on the company’s official blog in September 2021, Twitter states that it trains its algorithms to recognize patterns of malicious activity and that between 5 million and 10 million accounts are investigated every week.

Users are also encouraged to report spam and scam accounts.

The company also claims that it has a forensic investigator team to detect if accounts are automated and identify harmful campaigns on the network. Every six months, the company publishes a transparency report, in which it indicates exclusions from profiles and other data on the subject.

Could the problem stall the negotiation between Musk and Twitter?

It’s still too early to say. About two hours after announcing that negotiations to buy the social network were suspended, Musk returned to Twitter to say that he was “still committed to the purchase” of the company.

The billionaire is known for being temperamental (learn more about Musk’s controversies), which makes the outcome of the transaction not very predictable.

After the first message on the matter, Twitter’s stock dropped around 20% in premarket trading on the US stock market. At the opening of negotiations, the fall in the value of the company’s shares was 10.98%.

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