Bot Researcher Doubts Elon Musk's Claims

Tool his team used in Twitter lawsuit flagged Musk himself as a bot
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 19, 2022 8:55 AM CDT
Bot Researcher Doubts Elon Musk's Claims
The Twitter splash page is displayed on a digital device in San Diego.   (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

(Newser) – The trial over Elon Musk's attempt to back out of his deal to buy Twitter begins on Oct. 17, and the case will center on the "bot or not" question. Musk argues that Twitter has massively understated the proportion of fake or spam accounts on the platform and he can't verify how many accounts are actually run by humans. His team estimates a third of visible accounts are fake and at least 10% of daily active users are bots—computer programs that run automatically; Twitter says the latter figure is closer to 5%. But bot researchers are questioning the claims, the BBC reports. The tool Musk's team used appears to be on the fence about whether Musk himself is a bot and is fairly sure that President Biden is one.

Musk's team used the Botometer tool, which analyzes Twitter accounts for bot-like activity and give them a score out of five. Accounts with higher scores are less likely to be controlled by humans. Musk's Botometer score was 0.9 as of Friday, with Botometer noting that "34% of accounts with a bot score above 0.9 are labeled as humans." But Musk's account received a 4 in one test in May, Protocol reports. The score for President Biden's official account was 3 as of Friday, while the three most-followed users on Twitter—Barack Obama, Justin Bieber, and Katy Perry—scored 2, 1.2, and 0.6, respectively.

Botometer creator Kaicheng Yang tells the BBC that the figure used by Musk's team "doesn't mean anything" because they didn't specify at what score they decided to draw the line between human and bot. He says they didn't speak to him before using the tool. In a court filing earlier this month, Twitter cited Botometer's own FAQ, which states that if bot detection was "easy to do with software, there wouldn't be any bots—Twitter would have already caught and banned them," Ars Technica reports. It added that Botometer flagged accounts like weather bots, which "are often helpful and permissible" under Twitter's rules on fake or spam accounts. (Read more Twitter stories.)

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