Elon Musk may soon face Twitter in a Delaware court over whether he should be forced to buy the social media company. Musk’s excuse to retire? Bots. Specifically, how many robots abound on Twitter.
In an attempt to pull out of the $ 44 billion deal, Musk has claimed that Twitter has not provided enough data on the platform’s number of robots – automated accounts that can be benign, but can also be used for malicious purposes such as getting users out of their money. through get-rich-quick schemes.
According to Musk, Twitter dramatically underestimates the number of robots on the social network when it claims that they make up less than 5% of the daily active users who can make money. Musk has estimated, without giving a source, that robots make up as many as 20% or more of Twitter’s user accounts.
But let’s say, as an exercise, that Musk’s prediction is correct and that Twitter’s numbers are poor. If true, the social network is likely to meet a serious bill from advertisers and users.
Too many robots will mean that advertisers get nothing for their money when they buy ads on the platform. When it comes to users, this means that fewer people than they thought saw their tweets.
In the lawsuit against Musk, Twitter claims that it is “bent over backwards” to give him a lot of information about how it calculates the number of robots on the platform. In addition, the company says that it has made the estimate of 5% for years, and that it “uses significant assessment” when counting robots.
Nevertheless, even Twitter admits in a securities file that “the actual number of fake accounts or spam accounts may be higher than we have estimated”.
What if Twitter has more robots than reported?
Twitter generates the overwhelming majority of its revenue through ads. You see them in promoted tweets every time you browse your timeline. That’s why someone like me, who does not like golf, sees tweets from The Golf Channel sandwiched between those for PlayStation 5 and comics.
In the first quarter of 2022, Twitter generated $ 1.11 billion of its total $ 1.2 billion in advertising revenue. That is over 90% of the income. To say that Twitter relies on ads to keep its business growing is an understatement. The same, of course, applies to cohorts, including Meta, Snap, TikTok and Alphabet.
Twitter collects the money based on how many actual people see ads on the platform. After all, if you are a brand, you want real people to see your ad and maybe buy what you sell.
Bots do not buy things like special shampoo, drive a car or watch The Golf Channel. They exist to fire off tweets and nothing more. Twitter’s statement that less than 5% of their daily active users who can make money are robots is a means of addressing advertisers’ concerns that real people are not seeing their ads.
However, if Musk is right, and 20% or more of Twitter’s revenue-generating daily active users are robots, not real people, then advertisers will turn on their money when they buy ads on the platform.
Nor are it just advertisers who want to reprimand Twitter if the penalty estimates are too low. Average users want to ensure that they communicate with other people, not automated programs. If the fine is 20% or more, as Musk claims, users may end up dropping Twitter as well.
Bots are a complicated problem
It’s not easy to count bots on a platform with 229 million revenue-generating daily active users. Twitter says it uses automated processes as well as manual controls using test sets of accounts to measure robots.
“The difficult challenge is that many accounts that look superficial – are actually real people. And some of the spam accounts that are actually the most dangerous – and cause the most harm to our users – may look completely legitimate on the surface.” Twitter boss Parag Agrawal explained via Twitter, of course.
But robots are not the same. Some can be programmed to tweet like actual people and may stumble even the smartest experts. It’s not as if these accounts have separated themselves that say “Hey, I’m a robot.”
Not all robots are bad either. Someone will automatically tell you sports results, act as alarm clocks or give you the latest news based on key topics you are interested in.
So far, Musk’s claim that Twitter is flooded with robots is just that – a claim. Twitter, meanwhile, has given itself a lot of leeway in describing the difficulties of counting robots.
For now, we have to take the company’s word for it.
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