Technology

The World Wide Web of Spam

Regular users of Twitter are no stranger to spam bots running rampant on the site. These bots are fake accounts created mostly for the purposes of scamming users in one way or another. Most are pieces used in phishing scams. These scams aim to draw information from the real users on the site through fake conversations that are preloaded on programs. These programs collect the data to see if it can be used. 

Photo by Tracy Le Blanc on Pexels.com

Recently, Elon Musk attempted to purchase Twitter. One of the main concerns regarding this deal, which would have taken place for $42 billion, was the number of bots, and fake accounts on the social network. In order to address this concern Musk contracted Cyabra to get a count of just how many of these fake accounts exist. Cyabra is a social search engine that specializes in data analysis and monitorization of social platforms. Cyabra was thrust into the spotlight in May of this year during the original purchase attempt by Musk. Cyabra however has since conducted a full study on the number of fake users on the platform. According to CNN,“That second analysis, which has since been referenced in court filings, concluded with roughly 80% confidence that spam and bot accounts represent 11% of Twitter’s total user base. The finding offers a look at the hurdle Musk may face if he takes over Twitter after previously saying he wanted to “defeat the spam bots or die trying.”

Twitter countered this statement, referring to mDAU rather than total users which can make comparison difficult. According to Twitter’s Q2 earnings report, a total of 237.8 million monetizable accounts. Monetizable means they are reachable by ads, thus meaning these are “active” accounts. This means that 13.7% of accounts come out to about 310,000 fake accounts. In this same earnings report Twitter makes claims against these numbers however, stating, “Furthermore, our metrics may be impacted by our information quality efforts, which are our overall efforts to reduce malicious activity on the service, inclusive of spam, malicious automation, and fake accounts. For example, there are a number of false or spam accounts in existence on our platform. We have performed an internal review of a sample of accounts and estimate that the average of false or spam accounts during the second quarter of 2022 represented fewer than 5% of our mDAU during the quarter. The false or spam accounts for a period represents the average of false or spam accounts in the samples during each monthly analysis period during the quarter.”

With the rise in attention to these spam accounts, it may finally mean that either Twitter or Musk may hopefully have a solution to offer sooner rather than later to finally rid the platform of these pesky bots and fake accounts. Not only are these fake accounts annoying, but as mentioned before, many of these accounts act with malicious intent. While it may not affect the more savvy user, they do aim to prey on the young and the elderly, those who may not understand the platform as well as those who use it as part of their everyday lives.

Twitter is not the only platform that is victim to these fake accounts. Meta (Facebook & Instagram) is also a major victim of these accounts. Activity from these spam bots can be seen on nearly every post that gains a decent amount of attention from users of the social networking sites. Most are easy to pick out, however some have become more complex and harder to pick out from the real users. Some of these fake accounts also do actually have a person behind the keyboard. This person however is not who they are portraying themselves to be, and almost never have anything good planned for those they interact with. 

When browsing these sites it is important to be wary of these fake accounts. Most users will say some version of the same thing, and these repeat comments can eventually be easy to pick out. Another way to tell if these accounts are fake is that many of them have been created, and have uploaded most if not all of their posts on the same day, either with no captions on any of the pictures, or with simple comments that may contain a link. Most of the time these accounts are spam/malicious. 

If you are still not quite sure if that Twitter account is fake or real, another source to help detect bot accounts has been introduced by the University of Indiana, a program called Botometer. This program aims to help detect fake accounts based on their activity, attempting to take the guesswork out of the equation for users.

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2 replies »

  1. Nathan, you were definitely an excellent candidate for editor of our technology section. You really know your stuff. Great work!

    Like

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