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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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Snap making changes to direct response advertising business

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Snap making changes to direct response advertising business

The company posted a net loss of $288.5 million, or 18 cents a share, including $34 million in charges from its workforce restructuring. That compared to a profit of $23 million, or one cent, a year earlier.

Snap ended the fourth quarter with 375 million daily users, a 17% increase. In the first three months of the year, the company estimates 382 million to 384 million people will use its platform daily.

Snap has become a bellwether for other digital advertising companies. Last year, it was the first to raise concerns about the slowdown in marketer spending online and to fire a significant number of employees—20% of its workforce—to cut costs in the face of falling revenue.

The company has spent the last two quarters refocusing the organization, cutting projects that don’t contribute to user and revenue growth.

In the first quarter, Snap expects the environment to “remain challenging as we expect the headwinds we have faced over the past year to persist.”

Investors will get additional information about the state of the digital ad market when Meta and Alphabet report earnings later this week.

—Bloomberg News

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Twitter Outlines New Platform Rules Which Emphasize Reduced Reach, as Opposed to Suspensions

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Twitter Outlines New Platform Rules Which Emphasize Reduced Reach, as Opposed to Suspensions

After reinstating thousands of previously suspended accounts, as part of new chief Elon Musk’s ‘amnesty’ initiative, Twitter has now outlined how it will be enforcing its rules from now on, which includes less restrictive measures for some violations.

As explained by Twitter:

“We have been proactively reinstating previously suspended accounts […] We did not reinstate accounts that engaged in illegal activity, threats of harm or violence, large-scale spam and platform manipulation, or when there was no recent appeal to have the account reinstated. Going forward, we will take less severe actions, such as limiting the reach of policy-violating Tweets or asking you to remove Tweets before you can continue using your account.”

This is in line with Musk’s previously stated ‘freedom of speech, not freedom of reach’ approach, which will see Twitter leaning more towards leaving content active in the app, but reducing its impact algorithmically, if it breaks any rules.

Which means a lot of tweets that would have previously been deemed violative will now remain in the app, and while Musk notes that no ads will be displayed against such content, that could be difficult to enforce, given the way the tweet timeline functions.

But it does align with Musk’s free speech approach, and reduces the onus on Twitter, to some degree, in moderating speech. It will still need to assess each instance, case-by-case, but users themselves will be less aware of penalties – though Musk has also flagged adding more notifications and explainers to outline any reach penalties as well.

“Account suspension will be reserved for severe or ongoing, repeat violations of our policies. Severe violations include but are not limited to: engaging in illegal content or activity, inciting or threatening violence or harm, privacy violations, platform manipulation or spam, and engaging in targeted harassment of our users.

Which still means that a lot of content that these users had been suspended for previously would still result in suspension now, and it leaves a lot up to Twitter management in allocating severity of impact in certain actions.

How do you definitively measure threats of violence or harm, for example? Former President Donald Trump was sanctioned under this policy, but many, including Musk, were critical of Twitter’s decision to do so, given that Trump is an elected representative.

In other nations, too, Twitter has been pressured to remove tweets under these policies, and it’ll be interesting to see how Twitter 2.0 handles such, given its stated more lax approach to moderation, despite its rules remaining largely the same.

Already, questions have been raised on this front – Twitter recently removed links to a BBC documentary that’s critical of the Indian Government, at the request of India’s PM. Twitter hasn’t offered any official explanation for the action, but with Musk also working with the Indian Government to secure partnerships for his other business, Tesla, questions have been raised as to how he will manage both impacts concurrently.

In essence, Twitter’s approach has changed when it chooses to do so, but the rules, as such, will effectively be governed by Musk himself. And as we’ve already seen, he will make drastic rules changes based on personal agendas and experience.

Twitter says that, starting February 1st, any previously suspended users will be able to appeal their suspension, and be evaluated under its new criteria for reinstatement.

It’s also targeting February for a launch of its new account penalties notifications.



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4 new social media features you need to know about this week

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New social media features to know this week


Social media never stands still. Every week there are new features — and it’s hard for the busy comms pro to stay up-to-date on it all.

We’ve got you covered.

Here’s what you need to know about this week.

LinkedIn

Social media sleuth Matt Navarra reported on Twitter that LinkedIn will soon make the newsletters you subscribe to through the site visible to other users.

This should aid newsletter discovery by adding in an element of social proof: if it’s good enough for this person I like and respect, it’s good enough for me. It also might be anopportunity to get your toe in the water with LinkedIn’s newsletter features.

Instagram

After admitting they went a little crazy on Reels and ignored their bread and butter of photographs, Instagram continues to refine its platform and algorithm. Although there were big changes over the last few weeks, these newer changes are subtler but still significant.

 

 

First, the animated avatars will be more prominent on profiles. Users can now choose to flip between the cartoony, waving avatar and their more traditional profile picture, rather than picking one or the other, TechCrunch reported, seemingly part of a push to incorporate metaverse-esque elements into the app.

Instagram also appears to have added an option to include a lead form on business profiles. We say “appears” because, as Social Media Today reports, the feature is not yet listed as an official feature, though it has rolled out broadly.

The feature will allow businesses to use standard forms or customize their own, including multiple choice questions or short answer.

Twitter

In the chaotic world of Twitter updates, this week is fairly staid — with a useful feature for advertisers.

The platform will roll out the ability to promote tweets among search results. As Twitter’s announcement points out, someone actively searching for a term could signal stronger intent than someone merely passively scrolling a feed.

Which of these new features are you most interested in? That LinkedIn newsletter tool could be great for spreading the word — and for discovering new reads.

Allison Carter is executive editor of PR Daily. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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