Twitter Refutes Report That 23 Million Active Users Are Bots

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Twitter is defending itself after reports this morning suggested that the company admitted up to 8.5%, or 23 million, of its active users are automated bots.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Twitter said that “up to approximately 8.5% of all active users used third party applications that may have automatically contacted our servers for regular updates without any discernible additional user-initiated action.” Some observers interpreted that line to mean that 8.5% of Twitter’s active users were so-called “bot” accounts, which post autonomously based on scripts.

However, a Twitter spokesperson told TIME Tuesday that the third party applications mentioned in the SEC filing are not necessarily posting on users’ behalves. Rather, that statistic measures the usage of third party apps that users authorize to automatically compile their social media feeds into one spot, like Samsung’s Social Hub. The spokesperson added that while it’s difficult to know accurately if these apps can also auto-post content, the statistic’s focus was on only apps that aggregate Twitter content automatically “with no user action involved,” as the SEC filing said.

Still more confusion was caused by another portion of the SEC filing, in which Twitter corrected its Q2 earnings report to say that 11% of its active users “solely used third-party applications to access Twitter,” a broader definition including apps that can only auto-pull as well as ones without auto-pull functions. The corrected figure was down 3% from the 14% figure Twitter originally reported in its Q2 2014 earnings report. Twitter made the change Monday after it discovered the number “included certain users who accessed Twitter through owned and operated applications,” like the well-known TweetDeck.

Some observers took the 14%-to-11% correction to mean that 3% of Twitter’s users access the social network through Twitter-owned apps other than its primary offerings — the company’s usually mum about how many people are using those apps. But Twitter shot down that calculation as well, saying Tuesday the adjustment was made to correct a computational error, not to fix how the figure was computed: it’s therefore incorrect to deduce that this 3% indicates the percentage of users who access Twitter through Twitter owned and operated apps, Twitter said.

We can glean something from the 11% figure, though, as the roughly 8.5% of users on third party apps that can only auto-pull is contained in that figure, Twitter said. That means the remaining chunk—as little as 2.5%—indicates the percentage of users using third party apps that don’t have the capacity to auto-pull, Twitter said.

So what does that mean? The users in this 2.5% group are using third party apps that may have the capacity to automatically post content in an authentic, non-spamming manner—friendly “bots,” if you will—such as the Earthquake Robot feed, which automatically tweets news about earthquakes.

Indeed, the kind of Twitter account many people associate with the term “bot”—false or spam accounts—are not counted as active users, and are thus entirely independent from the aforementioned groups, Twitter said. These false or spam accounts make up less than 5% of Twitter’s monthly active users, according to the SEC filing.



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