Illustration by Michelle Henry
Researchers at the University of Cambridge found something interesting about famous people and the way they use Twitter. Apparently, celebrities tweet quite similarly to the way Twitter bots tweet.
What are bots, anyway? Bots are applications that perform automated tasks, as set by the bots' creator. Bots can hold conversations with you, post on your behalf, or even do malicious things on the internet. Like most other things, bots can be both good or bad. They're also all over the place, including Twitter.
According to a report, about 48 million of Twitter's hundreds of millions of accounts are actually bots. These accounts are run by a bit of code, instead of an actual human being.
Funnily enough, researchers now say that celebrity Twitter accounts resemble these bot accounts quite remarkably. Of course, it's not that celebrities express themselves on Twitter like mindless drones. The researchers came to their conclusions using objective factors like the scheduling of tweets, the amount of content, and the number of accounts that bots and celebrities follow.
A number of bots are actually quite helpful and informative.
By celebrities on Twitter, we don't mean just anyone with a couple hundred followers on social media. The celebrities included in the study are the ones with over 10 million followers—the heavyweights, so to speak. It seems that the more followers you have, the more you begin to resemble a bot.
The researchers created an algorithm that distinguished bot accounts from human accounts by using factors like how often the accounts tweeted and how they interacted with other accounts. The algorithm had a success rate of 86%.
However, the algorithm was successful only up to a certain degree. When the human accounts had more and more followers, they became more and more difficult to distinguish from Twitter bots. Celebrity and bot accounts both tweet on a scheduled basis, they don't follow that many people, and they tweet a lot of content.
The difference is that celebrity accounts don't tweet links that lead people away from Twitter as often as bots do. Bots also don't retweet as often. Human Twitter accounts with much fewer followers also don't tweet with scheduled regularity.
Human tweets are still better than bot tweets
Bots can get a bad rap, though they're not all malicious or annoying. Some bots were created to generate spam, some are downright malicious, and some are completely harmless and even kind of fun. Some, however, are quite useful. Even some human Twitter users can spam people, while some bots can cause no nuisance at all.
The researchers discovered another thing that distinguishes human tweets from bot tweets: likes. Tweets by humans gain 19 times more likes than bot tweets do. In a time when bots are becoming more and more pervasive, it's somewhat comforting to find that human thoughts are at least more popular than automated tweets. Of course, with advancements in artificial intelligence, bots may soon be able to learn how to tweet more like a non-famous human.
Next time you've got a spare minute, check out your favorite celebrity's Twitter account and try to see if they tweet like Twitter bots.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!