Experts Say Musk’s Fixation on Twitter Bots Actually Misses the Bigger Picture
Elon Musk should focus on other issues rather than fixating on Twitter bots
For quite some time, thanks to Elon Musk, Twitter bots have come to occupy much of the discussion in the tech world. In venturing to take over the microblogging site Musk has made no secret of his irritation about the high percentage of “bot accounts” and his intention to cleanse Twitter by removing them. But experts point out that in being too obsessed with the issue, Musk is missing the bigger picture.
When the Tesla chief came out to vent his anger against Twitter bots captivating the platform, which he is supposed to own in near future responded with the information that bots affect approximately 5% of the total 229 million user accounts. But Elon Musk was not at all convinced with this response and he continued his tirade against Twitter. According to his own estimate, it was no less than 20%. Musk directly targeted the Twitter CEO, Parag Agarwal, and complained that Agarwal had refused to show him the proof of what the microblogging site is claiming. Musk even went on to warn that with the bot knot he would not be ready to move forward with the acquisition.
How do the experts make their case? A leading organization researching inauthentic accounts is the Observatory on Social Media. It is a joint project of the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at the Luddy School, the Media School, and the Network Science Institute at Indiana University. It brings data scientists and journalists together in detecting and countering disinformation and manipulation on social media, especially in this microblogging site. Experts point out that it is quite difficult to make any accurate measurement of the bot accounts and Twitter’s case is no exception. In a significant way, they refer to three categories— fakes, spammers, and bots— which are different but mutually connected. The basic point that emerges from the expert speak is that while the three categories may converge in some accounts it will not be right to associate every fake account with a bot as it may just be a spammer. So, it becomes clear that if one takes the wrong route of associating every inauthentic account with bots it will result in wrong calculations.
There are more elements in the bigger picture that are not being seen by Elon Musk. Experts also note that just like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bots. The bad Twitter bots contribute to the spread of dis/misinformation, communication disruptions, electoral manipulations, financial frauds, and dissemination of inciting and inflammatory content. But the good ones not only contribute to research activities but also play their role in spreading news and generating disaster warnings. When Musk is up in arms against bots in a generalized fashion, he tends to ignore this good-and-bad classification and seeks a kind of blanket ban on bots.
Twitter, the popular microblogging site, has shown humility by admitting that it faces a real challenge in identifying the exact number of inauthentic accounts. With various ways of tech tweaking, including the subversive use of AI, it is becoming more and more difficult to differentiate between genuine and fake accounts. Elon Musk may have issues with inauthentic accounts but in having a misleading notion about the Twitter bots and reducing the whole matter to bots and nothing else, he seems to be missing the woods for the trees.