One of the best parts about using Twitter is having access to an endless stream of discussions on trending topics. From social and health conversations to government and geopolitical debates, Twitter has a bit of everything for everyone.
Unfortunately, amid the thousands of Tweets that come up on your Twitter timeline, a sizable portion of them could be artificial opinions, created to mislead the Twitter community. These engineered opinions—typically spread by bots—can cause a lot of damage. So, how can you identify these bots in order to protect yourself from being misled?
Why Should You Care About Twitter Bots?
Well, Twitter’s bot issues are a potential problem for everyone using the platform. Depending on whose stats you believe, there are between 10 million to as many as 50 million bots on Twitter. If you go by Twitter’s official stats that say 5% of its active users are bots, then we are looking at around 16 million bots on the platform.
With such a high density of bot accounts, there’s a huge chance that you’ve been influenced in one way or the other by them. If you haven’t been influenced yet, sooner or later, it could happen.
Some of those annoying comments that get you very furious could be from a bot. Those tweets praising certain products, sometimes, enough to make you want to buy, could be from a bot. These artificial opinions could keep you misinformed or subtly push you into making ill-informed decisions.
The moment you mistake a bot for real humans, you become susceptible to their malicious schemes. However, not all bots are bad, we’ve previously discussed the difference between good and bad bots. You can save yourself from being a victim of bad bots by learning to tell organic tweets created by real people from those created and spread by bots.
How to Identify Bots on Twitter
Below, we’ve put together four easy ways to tell a bot from a real person on Twitter.
1. Tweet History
Malicious bots are almost always created with an agenda in mind. It could be to influence elections or skew people’s perception of certain societal issues. Consequently, a lot of bot accounts typically tweet and retweet almost exclusively about a particular agenda.
You’ll find their tweets and replies quite similar, and in some cases, a “copy-paste” of their other replies. If you suspect an account of being a bot account, click through to their profile and check the similarities in their tweets and replies.
2. Geographical Origin of Tweets
Some countries tend to be more guilty of creating malicious bots than others. An account that shows “bot-like activities” and originates from a high-risk geographical location is more likely to be a bot than those from other geographical locations. This is why “Russian bots” are a thing on Twitter.
So, if an account’s tweets seem questionable and come from countries associated with state-sponsored bot campaigns, you should treat such accounts with caution. However, it’s important to clarify that there are millions of legitimate users from these so-called high-risk locations as well.
3. Nature of Tweets
Although Twitter bots come in varying sophistication, a lot of them are typically not very advanced in constructing tweets. Their poor ability to create intelligent and human-like replies might sometime sell them out.
Also, a lot of bot tweets come with links, typically pointing to external resources that support whatever views they’re trying to promote.
There’s a limit to how much you can do manually when trying to identify a bot. Some bots are very sophisticated, so much so that there might not be apparent signs to indicate that they’re bots.
In addition to your intuition and the tips we’ve shared, there are some web-based tools you can use to narrow down whether an account or group of accounts are bots or not.
Botometer is a web-based bot detection tool that can help you tell a bot account from human-operated ones in a few seconds. Developed and managed by Indiana University, the bot detection platform uses a wide range of datasets to calculate a “likelihood score” of an account being a bot.
The score is displayed on a scale of 0 to 5, with zero being the least likelihood of being a bot and five being the highest likelihood of being an automated account.
- To use the tool, visit the Botometer homepage on your desktop or mobile browser
- Type the Twitter handle of the account you want to check into the input box labeled @ScreenName.
- Tap the button labeled Check User and wait for the tool to complete the analysis and present a score.
If you’re still in doubt about the results of the analysis, you can take things further by analyzing the followers of the account in question. To do this, after inputting the Twitter username to check, instead of tapping Check User, tap on Check followers. A disproportionately large number of bot followers increases the likelihood of the account being a bot account.
It’s important to stress that only meeting one of the criteria we’ve shared are not enough to conclude that an account is a bot.
Bot Sentinel is one of the most powerful and accurate Twitter bot detection platforms you can find. All you need to check whether an account is a bot is the account’s username. Apart from checking an individual account, you can analyze all accounts that interact with your tweets.
Once you’ve authenticated your Twitter account on the platform, you can automatically scan your tweets for bot replies and, if needed, hide the replies or block the associated account automatically with little to no human input. Bot Sentinel also has a large collection of recently flagged potential bot accounts you use for cross verification.
While analyzing an account, Bot Sentinel also provides a list of topics that the account typically tweets about. To use the Bot Sentinel tool:
- Visit Botsentinel.
- Tap Analyze account on the top of the page.
- Enter the suspected account username with the @ symbol into the text input box and hit Submit.
An analysis of the account should come up in a few seconds. You’ll also find several other bot detection tools you can play around with on the sidebar menu of the Bot Sentinel home page.
Protect Yourself from Toxic Bots
Despite all its flaws, Twitter is still one of the best places to get information on a wide range of topics. As long as you choose to use the platform, it is important to protect yourself from the schemes of malicious users.
Don’t fall victim to misinformation and propaganda spread by bots on the platform. Although there’s no fool-proof method to identify a bot, feel free to use a combination of the methods we’ve shared to protect yourself from being misled.
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