Up to two thirds of tweets that link to popular websites are posted by bots rather than humans, according to new research by Pew Internet.
The Pew researchers looked at 1.2 million tweets from a three month period during the summer of 2017 that included links to about 2,300 popular websites. Then they used the Botometer, a tool created by researchers at Indiana University that rates the likelihood that a given account is controlled by a human, to identify which accounts were probably bots. They also audited the results of the Botometer by comparing its results to the judgment calls of human readers.
The findings paint a strange picture of the Twittersphere. Overall, two thirds of tweets that link to popular sites appear to be posted by bots. A staggering 22 percent of all links to popular news and current events sites were posted by just 500 extremely active accounts that the researchers believe are automated.
Unlike, say, Instagram, Twitter allows automated accounts, and the Pew report notes that not all bots are bad — it points to Netflix Bot, for instance, which tweets new releases on the streaming service, as an example of a bot that provides a valuable service.
But automated accounts are also used for harassment, or even to assist political campaigns: Twitter deleted 200,000 tweets last year, for instance, that it believed were posted by botnets run by Russian operatives attempting to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.