Not that Twitter needs any more bad news to come out about their social network, but a new study has found that nearly a sixth of all their active accounts are likely bots. Last month Twitter said that they have about 319 million monthly active users throughout the world, which is quite an impressive number.
The University of Southern California, conducted research that found as many as 48 million of those 319 million are actually just bots that are designed to act like real people. These bots can perform any type of action that a person would do, including favoriting Tweets, following other users, retweeting and more.
In some cases these bots are actually serving a good purpose. They might serve to send out an automated notification to followers of a certain event, such as an emergency. Others will automatically Tweet the scores of sporting events. While not real users, they are actually helping to improve what Twitter is offering to users. There are also accounts that are used for marketing, some of which provide a real service and others that don’t.
The research could be troubling news for Twitter, which has struggled to grow its user base in the face of growing competition from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others.
Researchers at USC used more than one thousand features to identify bot accounts on Twitter, in categories including friends, tweet content and sentiment, and time between tweets. Using that framework, researchers wrote that “our estimates suggest that between 9% and 15% of active Twitter accounts are bots.”
The majority of these bot accounts, however, are used in ways that don’t actually improve Twitter at all. Of course, all social media platforms have a problem with bots, but it seems Twitter is among the worst. This is just one more issue that Twitter needs to overcome if they want to have a sustainable service that users can enjoy for years to come.