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Over a year ago, Elon Musk initiated a bold $44 billion takeover bid for Twitter, driven by multiple concerns that he was vocal about. Among these, he expressed apprehension about the perceived inhibitory impact Twitter’s management had on free speech, particularly emphasizing concerns related to right-wing voices. Another significant concern for Musk was the prevalence of bots on the platform.
In April 2022, Musk made a resolute promise, asserting that, “if our Twitter bid succeeds, we will defeat the spam bots or die trying!” He concurrently pledged to “authenticate all real humans.” The prevalence of bots became a focal point during the summer of 2022 when Musk attempted to back out of the deal. He argued that Twitter had misrepresented the ratio of bots to authentic users in its userbase, providing grounds for reconsideration of the acquisition.
Despite Musk’s efforts, the maneuver to withdraw from the deal was unsuccessful, and for almost fifteen months, he has been at the helm of Twitter (now X). The critical question arises: how has Musk fared in addressing the persistent issue of bots on the platform since taking control?
Although X owner Elon Musk suggested that forcing users to pay for verification would help to weed out the bots (aka automated accounts) on the platform, that does not appear to be the case.
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A video gaining views on rival platform Instagram Threads shows X search results where numerous bots, including many verified with a blue check, are posting a variation of the phrase “I’m sorry, I cannot provide a response as it goes against OpenAI’s use case policy.”
The response is what OpenAI’s chatbot says when a user asks a question or requests that it perform a task in violation of OpenAI’s terms of service. In this case, it’s also an indication that the X account in question is using AI to create its posts.
Even from X, you can view the bot accounts in case you don’t watch the video
Much as Elon Musk introduced paid verification as a way to fight the bot problem, it’s at the very least suspicious and certainly proves that alone, it can’t be a solution. More recently, he suggested that everyone would have to pay for X, as a “small monthly payment” would help to combat the “vast armies of bots” on the platform.
It appears that the Verified bots are largely X accounts created in the November 24-26, 2023 time frame.
The company admitted last summer it had a Verified spammer problem when it announced new DM settings. The new features were targeted at reducing spam in users’ direct message inboxes by moving messages from Verified users you don’t follow back to the “Message Request” inbox — another signal that X’s Verification system was not weeding out spammers, as hoped.
X did not reply to requests for comment on this matter.
The company claims to have 550 million monthly users, per Musk, and the company is seeing 500 million posts per day, including posts, replies, quote posts and reposts, according to X CEO Linda Yaccarino. Neither exec has said if bots factored into those metrics, though.
Public problems with bot accounts
X’s bot problem isn’t just limited to private DM inboxes, either. It’s out in the open, where you can see inauthentic behavior in the replies to many popular tweets. They tout Bitcoin projects, get-rich-quick schemes, and other scams designed to phish unsuspecting users and trick them into giving up their personal information.
It all adds up to reputational risks for Musk’s platform, which is still trying to woo advertisers back after they took flight following his takeover. The recent hiring of former NBC executive Linda Yaccarino as X’s new CEO is designed to quell dissent among advertisers and to reassure them that the platform will become more brand-safe for them. However, the rise of scammy and spammy responses on the platform may well set all that hard work back.
The scale of X’s bot problem is already alienating users, evidenced by continued complaints regarding the number of inauthentic or annoying messages they receive. Being seen as a low-quality, spammy sort of place can be terminal for a platform like X, especially when it was once known as “the place to be” and the “de facto public square,” as described by Musk himself.
Given that Musk’s stated aim was to clean X of bots and to ensure that it’s a trustworthy public forum, it seems like he’s struggling to make that happen. Without positive change in the near future, the company faces significant reputational risks resulting from unrealistic promises and general mismanagement.