from the good-bot-bad-bot-elon-bot dept
One of Elon’s big promises when he took over Twitter was that he would get rid of spam bots. So far that’s been a huge fucking failure. That’s from the Wall Street Journal, which has been generally supportive of Musk’s tenure at Twitter. But, the article makes it clear that Musk has totally failed to make any dent in the fight against spam bots. The article quotes a bunch of experts and researchers pointing to various studies and reports all saying that the amount of spam on Twitter doesn’t seem to have changed much. And the article also notes that Musk’s claims that his Twitter Blue fake verification plan (which Musk insisted was key to stopping spam bots) has actually made the problem worse:
Some evidence indicates that Twitter Blue has actually added to the problem of fakes and bots because the way it changed the verification process has left many users unsure which accounts are real and which are fake.
Subscribers can now purchase check marks that Twitter used to reserve for accounts the company had deemed authentic and notable. Some famous users who previously had blue check marks now don’t, leaving those accounts vulnerable to imitators.
“Users are worse off in trying to delineate trustworthy and not trustworthy accounts,” said Princeton’s Mayer, whose study indicated that most U.S. adults don’t understand the platform’s criteria for assigning blue check marks to profiles.
And it’s been clear throughout this process that Musk has never even attempted to understand how any of this works, and makes his decisions almost entirely based on his own, somewhat distorted, view of how the platform works, which is extremely different as one of its most popular users.
And, of course, the prevalence of spammers on Twitter is so obvious now that when one of Musk’s most loyal fans tweeted that spam seemed to have disappeared on the site, multiple users showed up in the replies typing something along the lines of “my Facebook has been hacked, bitcoin, doge, nft” and the spammers went so crazy that the Musk fan deleted his tweet. As for the claim that Twitter Blue “verification” would somehow solve the problem, uh, no. Spammers seem happy to pay $8/month to spam people. Over on Bluesky, the user “Kilgore Trout” recently posted pages and pages of “Twitter Blue” accounts that the account had blocked, all of which had the blue check mark:
Of course, one of the parts that Musk really doesn’t seem to understand is the difference between bot spammers and useful bots. Because of his complete lack of comprehension on this topic, he seemed to think that beyond using Twitter Blue to stop bots (failure), his other big move would be to start charging for the API.
The assumption there seemed to be that all “bots” that used the API were “spam.” But, that’s never been true. Indeed, many of the bots that use the API were creating useful tools that made Twitter better. When he first announced his plans to start charging for the API and getting rid of the “free” tier, he seemed taken aback and surprised when people pointed out that there were tons of useful bots on the site, leading him to hastily announce that they’d create a free API for “good bot content.”
But, of course, there were no details, and the arbiter of “good bot content” wasn’t based on any principles, but pretty much seemed to be what Elon decided was good. Over the last few months, there have been a few different “bot apocalypses” in which suddenly a bunch of bots that used the Twitter API went offline (this includes us, by the way, as our auto-posting of Techdirt stories to Twitter is no longer allowed, since apparently we’re not “good bot content.”)
But, over the last few days, there’s been yet another bot apocalypse, as a bunch of “good bots” posting fun content started disappearing from the site.
Over the past 24 hours alone, Twitter suspended API access for numerous bot accounts that post photos of animals. Far from being a nuisance, accounts of this type tend to rack up large fanbases. For instance, @PossumEveryHour, which posts photos of possums for its more than 500,000 followers, announced it would be shutting down after losing API access on Friday night. @hourlywolvesbot, which tweets wolf pics for its more than 173,000 followers, also announced it would no longer be posting to Twitter for the same reason.
Other animal picture-posting bot accounts that have announced they’d no longer be able to post on Twitter include @CorgiEveryHour, @HourlyCheetahs, and @HourlyLynxes.
“This app has violated Twitter’s Rules and policies,” reads the message provided to the suspended bot accounts in Twitter’s developer portal. “As a result, it can no longer be accessed.”
As the article notes, some of the bots have been able to come back, as the issue for them seemed to be that they were still using the old API, and Twitter finally shut that down. So, for those accounts, they’re able to get started again by switching to the new API. But that’s not true for all of them, as many are just totally being shut out, unless people complain loudly enough and Elon decides that the bot is good enough to return.
Some users have found a solution for the bot accounts. It appears that for some bots, the issue is just that Twitter is now getting around to shutting down their old free API tiers. This means that some bots could continue to run, albeit with less regularity, via Twitter’s new extremely limited free tier that was set up for those “good” bots. They would need to manually setup the account once again on the new Twitter API.
But, that’s not the case for every bot account, as some have found that they still need to shut down unless they pay for API access. And since most of these accounts don’t make their creators any money, few are willing to do so.
And it hasn’t only been the animal-posting bot accounts that have been affected. For example, the popular @MakeItAQuote account, which has more than 623,000 followers, was one of the first taken down in this purge when its API access was suspended last week. The account would automatically create a quote image of a user’s tweet when someone mentioned it in the reply to the post.
Hilariously, as the Mashable article notes, it’s possible that all of this is in response to Elon discovering that the bot account “ExplainThisBob,” was really pushing some sort of crypto shitcoin. The account, which had built up quite a following by using some sort of AI system to “explain” tweets with summaries that were often a mess, had been praised just weeks ago by Elon himself, who claimed “I love Bob” after Bob had summarized a discussion about Twitter cutting off API access:
But, then once he realized that the Bob account was pushing a crypto shitcoin, Elon said it had to be suspended, leading the bot to beg for its life, unsuccessfully.
Again, the only consistency here are Elon’s whims. And, let’s be quite clear: it’s his site. He can do whatever the fuck he wants with it. But, what’s hilarious is that he kept insisting that one of the key reasons he took over the site was to stop the inconsistent and arbitrary moderation policies (back when there were actual policies) and he’d bring about more consistent policies, mostly around letting everything go.
Except, apparently, if you post bots of cute animals.
Filed Under: api, bots, content moderation, elon musk, explainthisbob, possumeveryhour, scams, spam, useful bots