Elon Musk cited this tool in his bot dispute with Twitter. Its creator has thoughts

Musk, who originally said part of his plan to own Twitter was to “defeat spam bots”, more recently accused Twitter of lying about the number of bots on its platform, and argued that it should be able to withdraw from the agreement if Twitter will not necessarily provide the information to support its published estimates. Twitter (TWTR) sued Musk in an attempt to coerce him into the deal.
Musk’s response to Twitter’s lawsuit, which was made public on Friday, says the billionaire’s team used Twitter’s “firehose” of tweets and Botometer to analyze the number of bots on the platform. Musk’s response claimed that, based on his analysis, “fake or spam accounts” accounted for 33% of visible accounts on the platform in the first week of July and about 10% of its daily active users. monetizable during the period. Twitter has long maintained in public filings that these accounts represent less than 5% of its monetizable daily active users.

Yang, one of the creators of Botometer, said he hadn’t heard from Musk’s team and was surprised that the richest man in the world had used his tool.

“To be honest, you know, Elon Musk is really rich, isn’t he? I assumed he would spend money hiring people to build fancy tools or methods himself,” Yang told CNN Business on Monday. Instead, Musk opted to use the Indiana University team’s free, publicly available tool.

Twitter has repeatedly argued that bots aren’t actually relevant to the deal, after Musk signed a binding contract that doesn’t include any bot-related exclusions. Still, the company hit back in a response to Musk’s response by noting that Botometer uses a different method than the company to rank accounts and “earlier this year Musk himself was named as highly susceptible to be a bot”.

Botometer does indeed approach the issue a bit differently, according to Yang. The tool does not show whether an account is fake or spam, nor does it attempt to make any further judgment on the intention of the account. Instead, it shows the likelihood of an account being automated — or managed using software — using various considerations such as the time of day they tweet or whether they are self-tweeting. declared to be a bot. “There is an overlap of course, but it’s not exactly the same thing,” he said.

The distinction highlights what could become a major challenge in the legal fight between Musk and Twitter: there is no single, clear definition of a “bot.” Some bots are harmless (and in some cases, even useful ones) automated accounts, such as those that tweet the weather or news. In other cases, a human may be behind a fake or fraudulent account, making it difficult to detect with automated systems designed to weed out bots.

Botometer provides a score from zero to five that indicates whether an account appears “human-like” or “bot-like”. Contrary to Twitter’s characterization, Since at least June, the tool has rated Musk’s account at around one out of five on the bot scale, indicating there’s almost certainly a human behind the account. This shows, for example, that Musk tweets fairly consistently every day of the week, and that his average tweet times reflect a human schedule. (A bot, on the other hand, can tweet all night, during the hours when most humans are sleeping.)

But in many cases, Yang said, the difference between bot or not can be blurry. For example, a human could log in and tweet from what is normally an automated account. In this spirit, the tool is not necessarily useful for affirmatively classifying accounts.

“It’s tempting to set an arbitrary threshold score and consider anything above that number a bot and anything below a human, but we don’t recommend that approach,” according to one. explanation on the Botometer website. “Binary classification of accounts using two classes is problematic because few accounts are fully automated.”

Additionally, Twitter’s firehose only shows accounts that tweet, so rating it would exclude bot accounts whose purpose is, for example, simply to increase the number of followers of other users – a form of behavior inauthentic that doesn’t involve tweeting, Yang said. .

Musk’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story. But Musk’s response acknowledges that his analysis was “constrained” by the limited data provided by Twitter and the limited time he had to conduct the assessment. This added that he continues to seek additional data from Twitter.

There is private Twitter data — such as IP addresses and the amount of time a user spends watching the app on their devices — that could help in estimating whether an account is a bot, according to Yang. However, Twitter claims it has already provided more than enough information to Musk. He may be reluctant to hand over such data, which could pose a competitive risk or infringe on users’ privacy, to a billionaire who now says he no longer wants to buy the company and has even hinted at creating a platform. rival.

About Alma Ackerman

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