Understanding Twitter and Bots, especially in India

Host of allegations and counter-allegations on how news trends on certain accounts of political leaders have been leveled and this has also brought about attention on the fact as to what does and what does not trend on the social media platform Twitter. It is in this context that Twitter bots need to be understood. These are essentially automated accounts that are supposed to make the platform more dynamic, engaging for users and brands alike. A brand can respond to a user whenever it is mentioned, users can auto-respond whenever someone follows them or create an automated list of tweets with certain keywords. Thanks to Twitter’s API, it’s fairly easy to create a bot on the micro-blogging platform.

But, bots have now gone beyond their original noble purpose and are being misused for a variety of purposes, ranging from manipulating a conversation to creating a mirage of someone’s popularity. The bulk of these bots, which pose as real users, have the potential to force something to trend.

While Twitter promised stringent measures against such as bots, a study in April disclosed bots have a sizable presence on Twitter, with estimated number in “millions.” About 48 million Twitter accounts, roughly 15% of Twitter user base, are most likely to be bots, said a research from the University of Southern California and Indiana University.

In the last few months, privacy advocates have been quite vocal about downsides of Twitter’s automated accounts. US President Donald Trump recently drew flak for tweeting his appreciation to one of his supporters which later turned out to be a fake profile.

Not just the US

Back in India, recently there was a big controversy on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s growing presence on social media allegedly driven by fake accounts. “…a close analysis of this tweet showed that these alleged ‘bots’ with a Russian, Kazakh or Indonesian characteristic were routinely retweeting the Congress vice president’s tweets,” said a report.

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