From @ElonJet to helpful or funny accounts, how ‘bots’ are part of Twitter’s DNA

Far from always being malicious, automated accounts, like the one that geolocated Elon Musk’s private jet in real time, are at the heart of the culture on the social network.

Ended following the wanderings of Elon Musk’s private jet on Twitter. The blue bird social network suspended the automated account on Wednesday December 14 @ElonJet, as well as a dozen other similar accounts. These profiles used public data to automatically indicate when and where the SpaceX boss’ plane took off and landed.

One more line to add to the war started by Elon Musk against the bots, these accounts programmed to automatically publish information on social networks. In May, the billionaire had threatened not to buy the social network without the assurance that less than 5% of Twitter accounts are robots. Accused of ” nuisance “ and of ” handling “these bots have been in the sights of the Californian platform for several years. Gathered in a small digital army, they can be used to spread false information, promote a product or discredit an opinion.

harmless bots

If some automatic accounts are indeed malicious, ” we must not generalize “tempers Margherita Pagiani, professor of artificial intelligence in marketing at Skema business school. “The term ‘bot’ is a catch-all word. It depends on who designed them, and why.” she adds.

Gregory Devin, French teacher at the Caen academy, is a “bot trainer” in his spare time. To his credit, a dozen automatic literary accounts that he creates in his spare time. “Bots don’t get very good press. I wanted to turn things around and show that they could be useful or just funny”, retraces the professor. His latest creation, @BotDuGouvercombines elements of government language to create new ones.

Grégory Devin is far from being the only creator of harmless bots. Just create a Twitter profile to notice. The app recommends around 20 accounts to start discovering profiles. Among them, @big_ben_clock, which tweets the number of strokes struck by the London clock every hour. The account @infinite_scream tweets long continuous howls in homage to The Scream, by Edward Munch. On his side, @EluardBot recomposes verses in the manner of Paul Eluard when @tiny_star_field created starry skies.

Alerts in the event of an earthquake in France with @botDuSeismecovid vaccination counter or stock market bot to request a stock quote. “Some of this software helps users or is useful for brand marketing”notes Margherita Pagiani.

Twitter built using bots

Far from manipulation and false information, these artistic, humorous or informative accounts are part of the DNA of the Californian social network. “For more than a decade, Twitter has allowed and allowed bots to exist on its platform”recalls Nicolas Vanderbiest, founder of Saper Vedere, a consulting firm specializing in the analysis of social networks.

The platform was built using bots. “When the application was created, it was quite minimalist. Twitter’s original community of developers and tech folks had to tweak to bring new features to the network,” analyzes Stéphanie Laporte, the program director of the master’s degree in Digital Communication and Social Media at INSEEC. As a result, a multitude of bots appeared… and were bought out to integrate the blue bird application.

“Usually, platforms get rid of bots as soon as they experience high traffic”, analyzes Nicolas Vanderbiest, specialist in the phenomena of influence on social networks. Conversely, Twitter has made its programming interface accessible to users since the 2010s. This is not the case for platforms like Instagram.

With the appearance of the service Cheap Bots Done Quick in 2015, the phenomenon exploded. It allows you to create a bot in a few minutes and host it on Twitter without going through the programming interface of the social network. “Anyone can build a bot in five minutes with the right apps,” jokes Stephanie Laporte. As a result, almost 96% of the bots registered on Botwikia site that lists auto accounts, are on Twitter.

An uncertain future

Despite their popularity – the humorous account @botducul is followed by 50,000 twittos – the bots are less and less numerous on Twitter. Measures put in place in 2019 to lock down the programming interface made it more difficult to access. For his part, Gregory Devin, the French teacher and trainer of bots points to the increased competition from AI (for artificial intelligence), “software that offers more creative possibilities”.

“The question is how long will the bots continue to exist? », he asks himself. With the arrival of Elon Musk, it is difficult to predict the future of automated accounts. If the South African billionaire is mainly targeting malicious bots, their humorous counterparts risk being the collateral damage of this anti-bot crusade.

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From @ElonJet to helpful or funny accounts, how ‘bots’ are part of Twitter’s DNA

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