Article

Patrick Kitchell
Patrick Kitchell 29 April 2015
Categories Social Media

The Twitter Robot And The Eco-System Of Robots It Supports

The only way to truly understand Twitter is to view Twitter has a large virtual robot controlled by a large set of rules.

The only way to truly understand Twitter is to view Twitter has a large virtual robot controlled by a large set of rules called algorithms.



These rules are built into Twitter so that Twitter can run completely autonomous and without the need of a  human driver at the wheel.  One side affect of Twitter being robotic and controlled by a set of rules that run without the need for human intervention is that it has a dark side. 

 

This dark side has been difficult for Twitter to control and can cause future problems for Twitter and other automated networks.  The reason is simple, because Twitter is a robot based on rules other robots can be built that can manipulate Twitter and live within the Twitter world of Twitter rules .  These bots can go undetected as long as they play by the paradigms that the Twitter algorithms set.

Please go and read the great article called the The Bot Bubble written by @DougBockClark. The article outlines how there are click farms set up in 3rd world countries tasked with creating fake users with a real telephone number on Facebook and Twitter that are controlled by robots. These robots are tasked with controlling a vast network of fake accounts to promote with fake likes, retweets, favorites on various #social media platforms. 


The article is a great read and very important to understand if you are thinking of spending advertisement money on social media. One quote from the article I found amazing was:

The researchers ran ten Facebook advertising campaigns, and when they analyzed the likes resulting from those campaigns, they found that 1,867 of the 2,767 likes—or about 67 percent—appeared to be illegitimate

After reading this article I had a very lively discussion on Twitter with Thomas Powers, Jermaine Young, Darren List and Jeff Smith about robots on Twitter.  From my perspective it is easy to dream up a worse case scenario of how click farms are driving up engagement on social media and ruining the very foundations of social media.

Why? Social media platforms and their revenue streams rely on people engaging with each other not robots faking engagement.

 

In our Twitter discussion, we agreed that these bots should be ignored and not followed or shown action against as Twitter’s own robot will find them and disable them.  It is easier for us right now to recognize these robots because they act like humans but not quite, there is something quirky about them.  It is this quirky side in their patterns of behavior that give them away to us. So what is obvious to an experienced twitter user is blind to the Twitter algorithm because the algorithm is looking for behavior patterns and doesn’t understand (yet) actual human behavior.

If you have seen the matrix then you will remember this scene (from minute 2 -3):


Neo: Are there other programs like you?

Oracle: Oh, well, not like me, but…. look, see those birds? At some point a program was written to govern them. A program was written to watch over the trees and the wind, sunrise and sunset. There are programs running all over the place. The ones doing their job, doing what they were meant to do, are invisible. You’d never even know they were here. But the other ones… well… you hear about them all the time.

Neo: I’ve never heard of them.

Oracle: Oh, of course you have. Every time you’ve heard someone say they saw a ghost, or an angel. Every story you’ve ever heard about vampires, werewolves or aliens, it’s the system assimilating some program that’s doing something they’re not supposed to be doing.

Neo: Programs hacking programs… Why?

Oracle: They have their reasons, but, usually a program chooses exile when it faces deletion.

So robots on Twitter, hidden from the eyesight of Twitter participate in possible wasting 67% of the advertising amount spent on twitter. Pretty amazing to think about and think much closer to the “matrix” we are then ever before.

From my experience there are many many types of robots.  Lets take the most innocent of them.  Beetlejuice. If you type on Twitter beetlejuice three time then a beetlejuice robot will answer you, see below:

          

Other than Beetlejuice, I have found on my own twitter account 2 types of robots. The first type I call the Engaging Robot and the second type theFollow Robot. I like to think of these Robots like a beehive where there is usually a queen bee ( major robot) and lots of worker bees (minor robots) buzzing around with the common focus on the queen bee. Lets start with the first type of robots that are actually creating engagement on my twitter account. 

Engaging Robots

Let me introduce Bing Bing and her Robots.  My relationship with Bing Bing started a long time ago when I was in my testing phase with Twitter and I was trying a Twitter gamification called FavStar . It was during this time I met Bing Bing and I would say that it was a person running that account.  Since, I stopped Favstar and moved onto other things, Bing Bing has automated their accounts and attached some robots that come onto my timeline and retweet and favorite random posts.

Queen Bee (major robot: bot)   


I know that these are robots as they related to each other.  This can be seen by how they all retweet and post links related to bingbing.com and I have purposely followed to see if her bot friends would retweet me and they do. Lets look at some of the fake accounts that are actively participating on my Twitter timeline. Here is an example of a tweet with 7 favorites where 5 are from robots and 2 from the actually people in the discussions:

 

Worker Bees (minor robot:bots) 
Let’ look a little more closely at them and look how the all promote thebingbing.com network. 



Now this behavior  looks innocent but it is not because they are creating fake human behavior to try and get me to believe they are human and join the bing bing network. It is driving up mentions and engagement on my Twitter account. From a personal note it is interesting to watch these robots randomly interact and try to find their patterns to see if it based on keywords , time or other people I follow.

Follow Robot

These non engaging robots/ follow robots are the ones that can be used to puff up user numbers and serve no other purpose. They try to act like real people by tweeting, retweeting and favorting other robots in their hive.  Since posting the article on the click farm on my Twitter timeline, I have been under silent attack from a non engaging robot.

Lets take a look:

Queen Bee (Major Bot):

Here she is and true form as it states in the article The Bot Bubble robots are usually a young women between 20 -30.  Yesterday after the discussion on Twitter, I thought I would be brave and follow her and retweet two of her tweets.

 

Working Bees (Minor Bots):

I have in fact had a constant inflow of these worker bee robots the last two days here are some of them.  These do not interact at all but they follow me.




Some examples of their work in promoting the queen bee:


 

I have received so many worker bees just from yesterday:



Conclusion:

There is a lot to be considered and concluded when thinking through the implications that Robots are having on social media. I am fascinated with Twitter and deeply intrigued by the rise of these small bots in a control environment like Twitter as it certainly gives food for thought when other large algorithmic robots are up and running if they will also support a whole eco-system of robots running in them. As for this behavior related to Twitter, I would consider these robots a direct threat to twitter because it blurs the lines between real and fake engagement and makes it more difficult to realize the true value of social media. I am not saying that people shouldn’t spend advertising money on twitter but that they should closely measure the outcomes and report them to Twitter if they find anything suspicious like 67% of their engagement return is wasted on robotic behavior.


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