A large portion of those “likes,” “retweets,” and “followers” striking up your Twitter, Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) account may not be coming from actual humans. According to new research from the University of Southern California, up to 15 percent of Twitter accounts are unfortunately bots rather than people. The report could be disturbing for Twitter, which has resisted expansion in regards to its user base in the confrontation of increasing competition from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others. Researchers at USC used over one thousand features to recognize bot accounts on Twitter, in classifications including friends, tweet content and sentiment, and time between tweets. Using that structure, researchers wrote that “our estimates suggest that between 9% and 15% of active Twitter accounts are bots.”
Since Twitter now has 319 million monthly active users, that transforms to nearly 48 million bot accounts, using USC’s high-end estimate. The report further statistics that complex bots could have disguised humans in their model, “making even the 15% figure a conservative estimate.” At 15 percent, the assessment is far larger than Twitter’s own estimates. In a filing with the SEC last month, Twitter stated that up to 8.5 percent of all active accounts contacted Twitter’s servers “… without any discernable additional user-initiated action.”
Since that equals approximately 20 million more accounts than Twitter’s own assessment, that could be a problem pertaining to analyst distresses about user growth. In a recent research report, Nomura Instinet analysts wrote that “Twitter’s revenue growth has slowed to the mid-single digits, as the platform has struggled to attract new users over the past year …” Twitter spokesperson stated that while bots often have negative implications , “Many bot accounts are extremely beneficial, like those that automatically alert people of natural disasters … or from customer service points of view.”
USC’s researchers also emphasize the advantages of certain bots, writing, “many social bots perform useful functions, such as dissemination of news and publications …” However, the USC report also points to the shortcoming of bots, saying, “there is a growing record Of malicious applications of social bots. Some emulate human behavior to manufacture fake grassroots political support … [and] promote terrorist propaganda and recruitment. ” Twitter now has several ways to account for violations, including impersonation accounts and spam. Several services also occur which claim to be able to audit followers and classify fake accounts.