Twitter bots have become a hot topic of contention for SpaceX and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, who put his $44 billion deal to acquire the social media company on hold. Parag Agrawal, the CEO of the internet’s purported town square, attempted to explain how Twitter combats bots but Musk took a dump over his statements – quite literally with a poop emoticon

With the ongoing feud becoming public, and Musk stating that the deal is a no-go without Twitter clarifying bot numbers, here’s all you need to know about Twitter bots, how they function, and how you can detect one. 

What are Twitter bots? 

A Twitter bot is a bot software that uses the platform’s API to engage and interact with users. A Twitter bot can be used for various purposes – to autonomously tweet, retweet, like, follow, unfollow, and even directly message other accounts. 

Are all Twitter bots bad? 

No, all Twitter bots are not bad, and the social media platform has a list of criteria to mark bad bot behaviour. This includes “malicious use of automation to undermine and disrupt the public conversation, like trying to get something to trend”, “artificial amplification of conversations”, bulk tweeting, spammy tweets, among others. 

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Among some of the effective Twitter bots, is @BotSentinel, which has been developed to identify and track different political bots, troll accounts, and automated bots pretending to be genuine users. Another useful resource is @Earthquakbot, which tweets about earthquakes reaching up to 5.0 or above on the Richter scale, in real-time. 

With Netflix releasing a ton of content each month, it is hard to keep track, where @Netflix_bot comes in handy, tweeting about the platform’s latest releases as soon as they’re updated. 

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The bad side of Twitter bots could be witnessed during the 2016 US presidential election, where pro-Trump automated bot accounts reportedly put our seven times more tweets than pro-Hillary accounts, as per Vox. 

Automated bots also distract Twitter users from the active consequences of global warming, by spreading climate change disinformation. A quarter of tweets which came around the time former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, were from bot accounts, as per a Brown University study. 

How to spot Twitter bots? 

While Agrawal has explained in great detail, on his Twitter thread, how the company identifies bots, there are some ways for users to flag these automated accounts as well. 

Some of the things to be mindful of include – 

IP Correlation – the geographical location of Twitter accounts 

Automation – whether the account tweets short replies which seem automated 

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Time-based correlation – if the tweets appear in close proximity 

Similar content – when tweets from different accounts reflect similar content

Time of creation – if an account has a recent creation date, it could be a bot 

Account bio – if an account description looks automated, containing numbers, or if the profile comes without an image, biography, or profile description, it could be automated 

Activity – if an account follows multiple other accounts but doesn’t have many followers, or if the account tweets and retweets content faster than average human speeds, it is likely to be a bot.