San Francisco - Twitter currently has 271 million active users but, according to a new filing with the Security and Exchange Commission, more than eight percent of them aren’t operated by humans.
One of Twitter’s big selling points, whether it be to music fans, grassroots political activists, sports obsessives, movie buffs, or journalists, is that it breaks down the barriers between you and the person or the subject that most interests or excites you.
Why turn to traditional forms of media to keep track of what, say, Justin Bieber is up to, when you can follow and converse with him directly, 140 characters at a time?
And while there is absolutely no doubt about whether the Canadian pop star’s tweets are the work of a sophisticated algorithm, the same can’t be said for some 8.5 percent of active accounts on the platform.
As Quartz, which first discovered the updated filing, notes, interacting with a bot isn’t necessarily a bad thing - a host of accounts that provide some form of public service information tend to be automated.
Likewise, bots have been used to automatically address climate change deniers on the platform, to constantly remind people of Einstein’s genius, or to simply automatically respond with “It’s showtime” every time a tweet references the 1980s film Beetlejuice.
But bots are also created simply to boost a user’s follower numbers or for companies or individuals to drum up a buzz around a product or announcement. And it’s this sort of behaviour that dilutes Twitter’s appeal.
Twitter’s 8.5 percent figure doesn’t include spambots that bombard users with tweets and links to dubious products based on hashtags. The company estimates that spambots currently represent less than five percent of active accounts.