Study: 48 million Twitter accounts are robots

NEW YORK -- A study released by the University of Southern California reports that roughly nine to 15 percent of Twitter accounts on the microblogging website are so-called bots controlled by software instead of humans.

Twitter boasts 319 monthly active users meaning that this recent revelation equates to nearly 48 million bot accounts, according the university’s high-end figure. Those bots are capable of interactions such as “likes,” “retweets” and “following.”

The study states that researchers used the following features on Twitter to determine its analysis of bot accounts:

Friends

Tweet content and sentiment

Network patterns

Activity time series

A spokesperson from Twitter told CNBC that while bots may have negative connotations, “many bot accounts are extremely beneficial, like those that automatically alert people of natural disasters ... or from customer service points of view.”

Researchers point out that the bots also “perform useful social functions such as dissemination of news and publications and coordination of volunteer activities” -- but there’s a dark side, too, as they can support “malicious applications” like promoting terrorist propaganda and recruitment.

An earlier University of Southern California study from November 2016 mentions that many political tweets come from fake accounts.

Researchers reported in the science journal First Monday that Twitter bot accounts produced 3.8 million tweets, or 19 percent of all election tweets for the study’s period between Sept. 16 and Oct. 21, 2016.

Recently, Twitter has made service enhancements to mute notifications from abusive users that may flood your personal account, CNET reports.

In the battle to fight online harassment, Twitter says users can silence notifications from accounts that have unconfirmed email address, phone number or profile picture that uses the the default “egg” icon.

As more resources are devoted to studying this social media phenomenon, you can protect yourself with these Twitter tips that help keep you following authentic accounts.

© 2017 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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