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What’s it All A-Bot? Twitter Bots and How We Should React to Them

By Oliver Krafka, Lead Writer at Scratch Copywriting LLC

Twitter is a social media platform and news outlet through which users can interact with each other, choosing who to follow, what trends to keep up with, and how to interact with others. In this way, we each uniquely shape our experience with the platform, connecting with others who share our interests and profession, staying updated on the latest news, and conversing and sharing content with friends. You undoubtedly discover new people.

But is this person real?

It’s a more relevant question than you may think, as it’s estimated that around 15 percent of Twitter accounts are automated—programmed to follow a set of rules. These automated accounts, or Bots, can be programmed to perform just about all the actions a real user can perform: tweet, retweet, like, follow and unfollow, and send direct messages (DMs). Accounts are programmed using an Application Programming Interface, or API; through this interface, a user can set the rules by which a Bot account operates.

This leaves it up to the user to decide the purpose of their Bot. Some positive benefits of an automated account are spreading useful information, generating creative content, or sending automatic replies and DMs to followers. But there are also negative aspects to Bots: violation of user privacy, spamming, distortion of debate, and the spread of misinformation.

Bad Bots

The more nefarious Bot accounts are usually those trying to mask the fact they are automated. These accounts present themselves as a person or organization with the intent of spreading malicious content and increasing polarization.

The best defense is knowing how to identify these Bots; here are some of the most common indicators:

  • How often does the account tweet? If it’s daily average is over 50, that’s a strong indicator of Bot activity.
  • Is any personal information provided? If there’s no indication of a person operating the account, such as a name, location, or website, there’s a good chance it may be a Bot.
  • Is there original content? Analyze the account’s tweet history. Are there any tweets from the user them self? If you see a long list of retweets with little or no original content, it may be a Bot or part of a Botnet (a group of automated accounts working together to amplify specific content and messages).
  • The lack of a profile picture is an indication that the user may not be real. And even if the suspected account does have a picture, it may be a stolen or widely used picture. Try doing a reverse image search on Google. You may find multiple Bot accounts using the same photo.
  • Look at their Twitter handle; many Bot accounts are a mishmash of letters and numbers. If there is a name in the handle, compare it to the name on the account to see if they match.

 

Bots are here to stay and, while Twitter is continually working to suspend suspect accounts, educating ourselves on how to identify them is the surest form of protection.

Benevolent Bots

But wait! Let’s put away the torches and pitchforks for a moment. There are many Bot accounts out there that provide useful information, entertainment value, and act as positive forces. These accounts usually state they’re automated in their description—they’ve got nothing to hide! Here are just a few examples of good Bots:

  • @tinycarebot prompts followers to perform simple acts of self-care, such as listening to inspiring music, reminding you to eat something, or take a break. You know, I think I’ll take one now…
  • @earthquakeBot tweets about all earthquakes with a 5.0 magnitude or greater as they happen. Not quite earth-shattering, but informative nonetheless.
  • @_grammar_ alerts random users who use improper grammar. I’m not sold on this one’s usefulness yet.
  • @theNiceBot combats mean tweets by automatically tweeting nice messages.

 

As you can see, these Bots run the gamut, providing users with useful information, an encouraging word, a quick laugh—who knows what else!

It’s A-Bot Time

There you have it—Bot accounts are a pervasive force on Twitter. Yes, we should be wary of their negative applications, but also take advantage and enjoy the good-natured and informative Bots.

Maybe you want to create your own Bot account? It’s not as hard as you may think; the internet’s full of quick start guides, and over time you can build a robust automated account. Maybe one that retweets content about outer space, or sends a message to users who use the #tortitude hashtag. I’m thinking a Bot that sends out randomly generated puns.

 That sounds like lots of pun.


 

Oliver Krafka

Oliver Krafka is a marketing copywriter at Scratch Copywriting LLC, where he utilizes a boundless creativity and keen eye for language to create targeted and engaging copy. He can be reached on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/oliverkrafka and scratchcopywriting.com.

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