Monday 20th August 2018

Twitter Bans More Bots From Platform As Criticism Mounts

Joe West
by on 26th February 2018

Twitter is upping its efforts to delete what it claims are automated accounts from its platform.

Last week users reported that thousands of their followers were disappearing, with some Twitter users suggesting that only conservative commentators in the US were being targeted. The #TwitterLockOut hashtag was used to track these claims, although users pointed out that the purge was impacting people across the political spectrum, not just those on the right.

In a statement given to Ars Technica, Twitter reaffirmed it’s “apolitical” and in this latest development it is merely taking action against accounts which violate its terms of service. However, claims that Twitter is limiting free speech through its suspension of accounts are fuelling the fire of this debate.

Twitter has a variety of approaches to dealing with accounts which do not abide by its increasingly stringent rules. It can make tweets less visible or hide them entirely, lock accounts until offending posts are deleted, require account verification via telephone and much more.

In response to this most recent outcry, Twitter has set out to demonstrate that it takes the issue of bots seriously. As well as tackling abuse, it needs to ensure that its users can trust the platform, rather than seeing it as compromised by fake accounts and automated content.

In the UK it has come under scrutiny for the alleged role bots played in the run-up to the Brexit vote in 2016.

Researchers from City University found 13,500 accounts churned out 65,000 messages over the course of a month prior to the referendum, and were promptly deactivated en masse once it had concluded. Pro-leave and pro-remain posts were repeated across these accounts.

Despite this, studies into the nature and scale of alleged “interference” in referendums and elections in North America and Europe varies dependent on the source you consult.

In evidence presented before the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, Twitter highlighted the presence of 49 accounts it claims published nearly 1,000 tweets prior to the Brexit referendum. Twitter also remarked these accounts showed “very low levels of engagement.”

In a separate study, the University of Edinburgh identified 419 accounts attempting to influence UK politics out of the 2,752 accounts banned by Twitter in the U.S.

Some academics claim the primary objective of bots is to cause disruption in the political systems of North American and European states.

This was further illustrated when academics identified bots posting tweets on both sides of the gun control debate in the aftermath of a school shooting that took place in Florida last week.