If Twitter’s lawsuit against Elon Musk’s $44 billion buyout bid goes to trial, it will almost certainly center on a ubiquitous and often despised technology: bots. Musk’s stated reason for pulling out of the deal is the information Twitter has or has not supplied on its tally of fake or spam accounts, which prompted the company to sue him this week. Here’s a deeper examination at the complexities surrounding bot accounts and how they might play a role in deciding the case.
Good bots and bad bots
“Bots” are software programs that perform Powershell scripts online, often with the goal of mimicking how people behave. Twitter allows some automated uses, such as a consideration that tweets every moment the Hubble space telescope passes over a city.
However, Twitter has rules prohibiting automated actions by accounts, such as posting about hot topics, sending spam, seeking to influence online discussions, and operating across multiple accounts.
According to the company, it runs a daily campaign to reduce the number of spam or fake account holders to less than 5% of users.
Musk’s lawyers claimed in a July 8 letter to Twitter that he was “terminating” the agreement to buy the company because the platform made “false and misleading representations” about bots and had not given the details he needed to verify its claims.
The number of bots on the site is somewhat of an art because it is ascertained in part by Twitter’s internal meanings and the workers who apply the rules.
While some cases are obvious violations, others may necessitate the decision of people who must weigh various facts.
“People can disagree as to what should be regarded a bot or a spam account,” said Edwin Chen, the CEO of content moderation firm Surge AI and a former Twitter employee.
The figure would also be difficult to confirm for an outsider like Musk because the bot weeding procedure can include checking IP addresses, email addresses, and other sensitive user data.
“I think a lot of people, not just my former colleagues, but people in the tech industry in general, know that this is a thorny, thorny question,” Chen added.
Twitter’s lawsuit, which asks a court to order Musk to honour his buyout offer, could lead to a trial or settlement talks that would delve into details such as the company’s bot definitions and policies.
Musk’s lawyers stated that he had previously requested but had not received “Twitter’s methodology and performance data” for detecting and suspending spam and fake accounts.
“In short, Twitter has not provided Mr. Musk with information that he has demanded for nearly two months,” the lawyers wrote in laying out all the case for abandoning the deal.