Expert Questions Musk Twitter Bot Figures Amidst Legal Battle

A leading bot researcher has said that figures given by Elon Musk in his countersuit against Twitter do not “mean anything”.

Musk is attempting to back out of his $44 billion (£36.6bn) deal to buy Twitter, and Twitter has sued Musk to force him to close the deal.

As a justification for backing out, Musk claims Twitter has more bots on the platform than it admits.

In his countersuit, made public on 5 August, his legal team estimated that a minimum of 10 percent of accounts on Twitter are fake, compared to the fewer than 5 percent claimed by Twitter.

Bot battle

The countersuit used a tool called Botometer, developed by the University of Indiana’s Observatory on Social Media, to arrive at the figure, based on a finding that 33 percent of “visible accounts” on Twitter were “false or spam accounts”.

But Botometer creator and maintainer Kaicheng Yang has told the BBC the figure “doesn’t mean anything”.

The tool ranks accounts on a scale of zero to five, meaning an account is least or most likely to be a bot, and Yang said users must choose where they set the threshold.

Musk’s countersuit doesn’t indicate the methodology used, including the threshold, which is “key”, Yang said.

‘Doesn’t mean anything’

“It doesn’t make the details clear, so he (Musk) has the freedom to do whatever he wants. So the number to me, it doesn’t mean anything,” Yang said.

Musk’s legal team acknowledges in the countersuit that its “analysis has been constrained due to the limited data that Twitter has provided and limited time in which to analyse that incomplete data”.

Twitter says it uses different data to arrive at its own conclusions, including private information not available to outside researchers.

The company said in its initial response to Musk’s countersuit that his claims were “contradicted by the evidence and common sense” and noted that Botometer has in the past indicated Musk’s own Twitter account was likely a bot.

‘Hard task’

The company cited a May 2022 Protocol article that said “Botometer indicated that Elon Musk’s own Twitter account was likely a bot, scoring it 4/5”.

The Protocol article noted that Botometer was giving Musk’s account widely varied rankings from one day to the next, which “highlights just how hard it is to identify bots, especially using only public data”.

Twitter’s response noted that “the Botometer’s own FAQ website cautions that ‘Bot detection is a hard task’ and that if it ‘were easy to do with software, there wouldn’t be any bots – Twitter would have already caught and banned them!'”

Twitter’s lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court is scheduled for a five-day trial beginning on 17 October.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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