EXPLAINER-What are these spam bots that Musk has vowed to defeat or die trying?
By Chavi Mehta and Nivedita Balu
May 13 (Reuters) - Billionaire Elon Musk on Friday put on hold his $44 billion-takeover plan for Twitter Inc TWTR.N, as he waited for details on the microblogging platform's claim that fake accounts comprise less than 5% of users.
Musk, who has made weeding out fake Twitter accounts and spam bots the central theme of his takeover plan, said if he buys the social-media platform he "will defeat the spam bots or die trying".
He has constantly blamed the company's over-reliance on advertising for the relentless spread of spam bots.
Twitter, like other social media companies, has been battling spam bots over the past few years through software that spots and blocks them.
So, what are spam bots and what counts as a fake Twitter account?
Spam bots or fake accounts are designed to manipulate or artificially boost activity on social-media platforms such as Twitter.
If accounts on the platform engage in "bulk, aggressive or deceptive activity that misleads people", then these activities are considered as platform manipulation, according to the company's policy.
Overlapping accounts that share similar content, mass registrations of accounts, using automated or coordinated accounts to create fake engagements and trading in followers are listed as violations of Twitter's spam policy.
A Twitter survey conducted across four countries showed that the biggest user concern was the existence of "too many bots or fake accounts".
How does Twitter detect fake accounts?
Twitter has a team that identifies real people and robots on its platform. The company uses machine learning and investigators to recognize patterns of malicious activity.
The algorithms challenge through 5 million to 10 million accounts per week.
Twitter, however, allows parody, newsfeed, commentary, and fan accounts, provided they disclose the nature of the account in the bio.
What does Twitter do with fake accounts?
When Twitter detects a fake account, it may lock the account or seek verification. In case of multiple accounts, the user may be asked to keep one.
Are all bots bad?
Twitter thinks not all bots are bad and has launched a label to tag the good ones.
"Who doesn't love a handful of robots who promise not to rise up against us?" the company's Twitter Safety handle tweeted in September last year.
Good bots allow automated accounts to share useful information such as updates on COVID-19 updates and traffic.
"Knowing who's real is fundamental to the integrity of the internet," said Tamer Hassan, CEO of cybersecurity firm HUMAN.
"When it comes to managing the threat sophisticated bots pose to organizations, most companies are trying not to lose. Defensive strategies focus on minimizing damage rather than playing to win."
Why Musk hates spam bots?
Musk, a self-proclaimed free speech absolutist, wants Twitter to become a forum for free speech, which he believes is "the bedrock of a functioning democracy", and sees spam bots as a threat to this idea.
In a recent TedX interview, Musk said his top priority was to remove "bot armies" on Twitter, calling out bots that promote crypto-based scams on Twitter.
"They make the product much worse. If I had a Dogecoin for every crypto scam I saw, we'd have 100 billion Dogecoin."
(Reporting by Chavi Mehta and Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)
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