What are spam bots and why are they a topic in Elon Musk’s Twitter deal?

On Friday, tech billionaire Elon Musk announced he was exiting a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter. The reason, he said, is an ongoing disagreement over the number of spam bot accounts on the platform. Now, what constitutes a spam bot account, and how many currently exist on Twitter, will likely be at the heart of the legal battle between Mr Musk and Twitter over the strained deal.

While sometimes referred to as “bots,” “spam,” or “fake accounts,” all refer to inauthentic accounts that impersonate use of Twitter. Some spam accounts are automated, while others are human-run, making them difficult to detect.

Bots can tweet, share tweets, follow and be followed by people, among other things.

Mr. Musk has raised concerns about spam bots on Twitter for years. In 2020, he appeared at an event for Twitter employees and encouraged the company to do more to prevent and remove spam bots.

Since announcing his intention to buy Twitter in April, Mr. Musk has repeatedly tweeted about spam bots on the platform. When Twitter Chief Executive Parag Agrawal tweeted in May about how the company detects and fights spam bots, Mr. Musk responded with a poop emoji.

in the a six-paragraph letter On June 6, Mr Musk’s lawyers requested more information from Twitter, stating that the company “denied Mr Musk’s data requests” to disclose the number of fake accounts on its platform. This represents a “clear material breach” of the deal, the lawyers continued, saying it gives Mr Musk the right to terminate the agreement. The next day, Twitter agreed to give Mr. Musk direct access to his “fire hose,” the daily stream of millions of tweets that flows through the company’s network.

Since going public in 2013, Twitter has estimated that around 5 percent of its accounts are spam bots. On Thursday, the company told reporters that it removes about a million spam bot accounts every day and blocks millions more every week until the people behind the accounts can pass anti-spam tests.

However, the company allows spam bot accounts, which it prefers to call automated bots running a service. Twitter encourages many of these accounts to describe themselves as bots for the sake of transparency. The company argues that many of these accounts provide a useful service.

Twitter defines good spam bots as automated accounts that “help people find useful, fun, and relevant information.” For example, @mrstockbot gives people automated answers when they ask for a stock quote, and @earthquakebot tweets about every 5.0 magnitude earthquake or greater worldwide as soon as they happen.

However, other spam bots are employed by governments, corporations, or malicious actors for a variety of nefarious purposes. During the 2016 US presidential election, Russia used spam bot accounts to pose as an American in an attempt to sow divisions among US voters.

Spam bots engaging in scams can often be found on Twitter trying to convince people to send cryptocurrency or digital currency to online wallets for prices that don’t exist. Sometimes spam bots are also used to target celebrities or politicians and create a hostile environment for them online.

Kate Conger contributed to the coverage.

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