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The ‘bots’ at heart of Twitter buyout row

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Software ‘bots’ posing as people can spread misinformation and foment division while making social media audiences seem larger than they really are. – Copyright CNS/AFP –

Glenn CHAPMAN

Elon Musk’s pausing of his bid to buy Twitter due to questions over “bots” has put the artificially-operated accounts at the heart of the proposed deal’s latest controversy.

The software is so commonplace and can be such a problem that tech giants such as Meta, Google and Twitter have teams devoted to banishing bots and cybersecurity firms sell defenses against them.

Here’s a closer look at bots:

– Human or software? –

At a basic level, “bots” are software programs that interact with online platforms, or their users, pretending to be real people, said Tamer Hassan, co-founder and chief of cybersecurity firm HUMAN.

Malicious bots have become sophisticated and are among this decade’s top cyber threats, said Hassan, whose firm specializes in distinguishing people from software online.

The term bots at Twitter is often used to describe fake accounts, powered by some version of artificial intelligence, that can fire off posts and even react to what is posted by others, said independent analyst Rob Enderle.

– Tickets and turmoil –

Bots are used in more than three quarters of security and fraud incidents that happen online, from spreading socially divisive posts to snapping up hot concert tickets and hacking, Hassan told AFP.

“The question is, what would you do if you could look like a million humans?” Hassan asked rhetorically.

“Across all social media platforms, bots can be used to spread content to influence people’s opinions, garner reactions and can even result in cybercrime.”

Bots can be used on social media to widely spread false news, direct users to misinformation, steer people to specious websites and make bogus posts seem popular using shares or “likes.”

Bots on social media can also sucker people into financial scams, Hassan added.

“Social media platforms have had bots for a long time,” analyst Enderle said. “Bots have been connected to attempts to influence the US election and shape opinions about Russia’s war on Ukraine.”

– The deal with Twitter –

Twitter makes its money from ads, and marketers pay for reaching people, not software.

“Advertising to bots isn’t going to have a good close rate because bots don’t buy products,” Enderle noted.

If advertisers are paying Twitter fees based on how many people see ads, and those numbers are inflated due to bots in the online audience, they are being overcharged, Enderle added.

If Twitter has way more bots than it is letting on, its revenue could plunge when those accounts are exposed and closed.

Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal has said that fewer than five percent of accounts active on any given day at Twitter are bots, but that analysis cannot be replicated externally due to the need to keep user data private.

Musk posted that the real number of bots may be four times higher and has said he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform.

Twitter has rules about automated actions by accounts, including barring software from posting about hot topics, firing off spam, attempting to influence online conversations, and operating across multiple accounts.

Bots are a known social media problem, and having Musk make it a sticking point this late in the acquisition process appears to likely be “a vehicle to escape the purchase or get a lower price,” Enderle said.

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TikTok spends $1.5B on Tokopedia JV to get around Jakarta social e-commerce ban

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TikTok spends $1.5B on Tokopedia JV to get around Jakarta social e-commerce ban

Just two months ago, ByteDance-owned TikTok abruptly closed its shopping platform in Indonesia to comply with surprise regulations from the Southeast Asian country’s government. Jakarta ordered social media companies like TikTok and Facebook to stop selling goods on their platforms, demanding a separation of social media and e-commerce services.

TikTok now seems to have found a way to revive its e-commerce dreams in Indonesia by spending billions to start a joint venture with Indonesian tech giant GoTo. On Monday, the two companies announced that TikTok Shop will now be available on GoTo’s Tokopedia platform.

“Tokopedia and TikTok Shop Indonesia’s businesses will be combined under the existing PT Tokopedia entity in which TikTok will take a controlling stake. The shopping features within the TikTok app in Indonesia will be operated and maintained by the enlarged entity,” TikTok said in a statement Monday.

TikTok will invest over $1.5 billion into Tokopedia, taking a 75% stake in the platform. GoTo will remain an ecosystem partner to Tokopedia and receive an “ongoing revenue stream from Tokopedia commensurate with its scale and growth,” but will not be required to continue funding the platform. Further funding from TikTok also won’t reduce GoTo’s remaining 25% stake.

Getting back into the Indonesian ecommerce market will be a win for TikTok. Indonesia, which is the platform’s largest market outside of the U.S., is key to Tiktok’s online shopping aspirations. In June, CEO Shou Zi Chew pledged to “invest billions in Indonesia and Southeast Asia over the next few years.”

ByteDance wants to replicate its Chinese e-commerce successaround the globe. Last year, consumers spent in China 1.41 trillion yuan ($196 billion) on products sold on Douyin, the version of TikTok for the Chinese market, The Information reported in January. ByteDance, through TikTok, is expanding its online shopping services in both Southeast Asia and the U.S. Yet the company is struggling to win over American consumers: The Information reported in August that U.S. shoppers are spending just $4 million a day, equivalent to $1.4 billion over a whole year, on goods sold on the social media platform. (TikTok officially launched TikTok Shop in the U.S. in September, though sellers have complained about a flood of low-quality products on the platform).

Before Indonesia imposed its ban in September, the country’s president, Joko Widodo, complained that social media platforms were threatening local micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises. Government officials also accused TikTok of engaging in predatory pricing.

GoTo’s deal with TikTok means the Indonesian tech giant is giving up its majority ownership of Tokopedia . Tokopedia started in 2008 and grew to be one of Indonesia’s largest e-commerce platforms. The company merged with ride-hailing startup GoJek in 2021, becoming GoTo Group. The company debuted on Jakarta’s stock exchange in April last year.

Yet the company has struggled to wow investors since then. GoTo has yet to make a profit since becoming a public company. The tech firm reported 2.4 trillion Indonesian rupiah ($147 million) in net losses last quarter, significantly less than the 6.7 trillion rupiah ($428 million) it lost this time last year.

Investors do not appear to be thrilled by the news of GoTo’s TikTok partnership. Shares fell by over 19% by 2:30pm Indonesia time on Monday, erasing gains made late last week as rumors began to build of the new partnership.

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How to Train ChatGPT to Write in Your Brand’s Tone of Voice [Infographic]

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How to Train ChatGPT to Write in Your Brand’s Tone of Voice [Infographic]

Are you looking for ways to improve your ChatGPT output? Want to train it to write in a more unique tone of voice, in order to better suit your branding?

The Creative Marketer shares his ChatGPT prompt tips in this infographic. To enact these, add “Write like [INSERT CHARACTER]” at the start of your ChatGPT instructions.

TCM breaks things down into the following categories:

  • Innocent
  • Sage
  • Explorer
  • Ruler
  • Creator
  • Caregiver
  • Lover
  • Hero
  • Everyman
  • Magician
  • Jester
  • Outlaw

Check out the infographic for more information.

A version of this post was first published on the Red Website Design blog.

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Elon Musk reinstates far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on X

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Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been reinstated on X, formerly known as Twitter, by company owner Elon Musk

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been reinstated on X, formerly known as Twitter, by company owner Elon Musk – Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File Joe Buglewicz

Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of X, on Sunday reinstated far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on the social media platform, a year after vowing never to let him return.

Jones, who claimed that a December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 20 children and six educators was a hoax, was banned from the platform — then still known as Twitter — in 2018 for violating its “abusive behavior policy.”

He was also sued by families of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting and ordered by a judge in the case to pay up more than a billion dollars in damages last year.

Musk had himself promised never to let the Infowars host back on the social media platform, which he bought last year for $44 billion.

But following a poll Musk conducted on X asking whether Jones should be reinstated, to which some two million users responded, he flipped that decision.

“I vehemently disagree with what he said about Sandy Hook, but are we a platform that believes in freedom of speech or are we not?” the SpaceX founder said on X.

But Shannon Watts, founder of the group Moms Demand Action group which pushes for tighter gun laws, said that “defamation is not free speech.”

Musk’s decision comes the same week that the Sandy Hook families commemorate the 11th anniversary of the December 14 shooting, which Jones alleged was staged to allow the government to crack down on gun rights.

Jones’ followers harassed the bereaved families for years, accusing parents of murdered children of being “crisis actors” whose children had never existed.

It also came a week after Musk had responded to advertisers pulling out of X because of far-right posts and hate speech, including an apparent endorsement by Musk himself of an anti-Semitic tweet.

Asked whether he would respond to the advertising exodus, Musk said in an interview with journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin that the advertisers could “go f*** yourself.”

Jones, who has a million followers on X, returned to the site with his first post re-tweeting Andrew Tate, the controversial former kickboxer facing rape and human trafficking charges in Romania, in which he hailed Jones’ “triumphant return”

US media reported that as of Sunday, the account of Jones’ controversial show Infowars was still banned.

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