Are some of the most-followed accounts on Twitter actually not run by humans but bots? Either way, there isn’t much difference in the way they would operate, researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have found.
Three researchers from the university analyzed thousands of accounts on the micro-blogging platform and found that ‘celebrity’ accounts — those with more than 10 million followers — behave much the same way that an account run by a bot would. The rate at which these celebrity accounts retweet others’ tweets are similar to bots, and even the pace of original tweets posted by both categories of accounts was found to be similar.
This was in sharp contrast with Twitter accounts that had a smaller following, with a large difference opening up between the behavior of the human accounts and those of bots. Bot accounts on Twitter generate a lot more content than the average human user, and also retweet more often, behavior which is in line with human Twitter accounts have over 10 million followers.
“Tweets by human accounts receive on average 19 times more likes and 10 times more retweets than tweets by bot accounts. Bots also spend less time liking other users’ tweets,” the researchers said in a statement Tuesday.
Zafar Gilani, a Ph.D. student at the university and leader of the research, explained why bots behave the way they do.
“We think this is probably because bots aren’t that good at creating original Twitter content, so they rely a lot more on retweets and redirecting followers to external websites. While bots are getting more sophisticated all the time, they’re still pretty bad at one-on-one Twitter conversations, for instance – most of the time, a conversation with a bot will be mostly gibberish,” he said in the statement.
Bots are software designed to carry out specific tasks over the internet, such as crawling through websites, posting content on social media or spamming forums. The researchers cited an estimate of between 40 and 60 percent of all Twitter accounts being bots and specifically mentioned accounts like those of BBC and CNN being automated. They also found that while there are some bot accounts on Twitter with tens of millions of…