The Bot War: Twitter’s Crackdown on Fake Accounts

The Bot War: Twitter’s Crackdown on Fake Accounts

On Wednesday, Twitter’s action to eliminate bots, or software systems that can complete automated tasks online, turned into a legal debate. Bots have become widespread on the web, but a major issue is the automated accounts they hold, especially on a site like Twitter where follower counts reign supreme.

For years, online users have questioned the control social media platforms have over their content, and whether the actions these sites take infringe their rights. So why would Twitter suddenly decide to eliminate bot accounts? Let’s take a look at the arguments and reasoning surrounding Twitter’s decision.

What’s so Bad About Bots?

Bots have been around for a long time and have more control than you might think. They take up over 50% of internet traffic, so chances are, you’ve seen one. Some are used by huge sites like search engines or social media sites to automate basic actions—these bots are useful and incredibly helpful, but not all bots are like this.

Bots can also be used for malicious purposes, which can be everything from spam and influence to hacking people’s accounts to steal their information. A recent arena for evil bots? The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Russian bots have found a penchant for U.S. political ads and are only one of many ways in which Russia’s influence on the election has been found.

Why the Crackdown?

As a major highway for bots, Twitter has long been accused of not doing enough to wrangle them. In January, after learning of the Russian propaganda on the site during the election, Twitter announced that new efforts would be made to improve information quality on the site.

This includes preventing users from “performing  coordinated actions across multiple accounts” and eliminating accounts that violate the new terms to promote safety and reduce spam, according to a blog post from Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of API (Application Program Interface) Policy department.

Why the Uproar?

Twitter’s actions against bot accounts is causing outrage because many conservative users are upset at discovering a significant loss of followers upon logging in Wednesday morning. They feel this action was specifically enacted to target them and reduce their audience on the platform. Some, including Michael Flynn Jr., even feel the social media giant is censoring them.

While Twitter has taken action to reduce hate speech and punish malicious users, the so-called ‘lock-out’ was to eliminate fake accounts controlled by bots. Speaking with Vanity Fair’s news outlet The Hive, a Twitter spokesperson urged that the company doesn’t have ulterior motives and is an apolitical company—they simply wish to make their site a better place to be. Plus, some of the suspicious accounts only need to be confirmed by a user to be brought back online.

No matter which side you fall on, it is good to know that Twitter is taking actions to prevent bots from overwhelming its site and the content users see. It is impossible to eliminate all bots as they become more sophisticated, but taking steps to improve site security and keep fake accounts from influencing something as vital as an election can only be a step forward.