Twitter Initiates a Live Test of New Bot Account Labels
Twitter has begun its first live test of new labels for bot accounts, which it claims will help users "distinguish decent bots from spammy ones" after experimenting with several display formats for the option in the past two years.
It won't help with that exact demarcation, though. The new bot labels will contain a bot icon beneath the profile name listing, as well as an additional indicator of the human-run account that administers the bot, as shown in this example.
In-stream, the labels will be displayed under the profile name, with a ‘Automated' marker beneath it.
This will make it easier to see who or what you're dealing with in the app, as well as how that content is shared, perhaps improving the understanding of each account's motivations and reducing confusion surrounding specific messaging.
However, it will not necessarily assist in the identification of spamming bot accounts, at least not in this aspect. Twitter's bot labels are now only being applied to accounts that have enrolled into the initial test, with plans to expand the bot label's availability to more developers in the near future.
So, how will Twitter distinguish between good and harmful bots?
Twitter published new guidelines for using its Developer API back in March, including revised guidelines for bot usage and recognizing bot accounts.
According to Twitter:
"Not all bots are bad. In fact, high-quality bots can enhance everyone’s experience on Twitter. Our new policy asks that developers clearly indicate (in their account bio or profile) if they are operating a bot account, what the account is, and who the person behind it is, so it’s easier for everyone on Twitter to know what’s a bot - and what’s not."
As such, Twitter should already have a list of permitted bot accounts that use its API - but, of course, not all developers would have made this upgrade, and those looking to employ bots for illegitimate or evil purposes will not follow the same guidelines.
However, the policy update provides Twitter more advantage to impose such regulations, and as it proceeds to update and improve its bot detection processes, it should be able to guarantee that more bot accounts are using the new labels, or they may face full platform bans for infringing these requirements.
It's a great development that should enhance Twitter's bot-fighting efforts - which might have a major impact when you consider how bot accounts have been used to promote particular themes and movements on the network.
Following the 2016 US election, for instance, researchers discovered numerous "massive, interconnected Twitter bot networks" that they determined were attempting to influence political debate, with the largest cluster containing over 500,000 bot accounts. In 2019, Wired revealed that bot profiles were responsible for up to 60% of tweet activity around some trending events, while a network of Twitter bots was discovered spreading misinformation about the Australian bushfire crisis in early 2020, attempting to amplify anti-climate change conspiracy theories in opposition to known facts.
You'd think people would be able to spot these bot tweets, but they're often rather inconspicuous, with the only real clue being that the same message is being posted by multiple accounts at the same time, attempting to magnify that perspective or narrative.
Because most users aren't following multiple of these accounts, that approach is easily disregarded. However, if this becomes a trending topic, the sheer amount of mentions can sway user sentiment on the subject.
Twitter is aware of this, and it has been attempting to improve its strategy to combating bot brigading and removing its negative effects.
Bot account labeling could be a crucial step in this process, with the goal of improving twitter interaction and removing harmful, fake influences.
Twitter states that the bot labels are presently only being applied to some accounts that have entered the initial test, with extended access expected soon.