Side Note

If you tweet like a bot you should still get banned

One of the primary ways that platforms like Twitter and Facebook identify bots is by the sheer volume of content they produce. Does the account post several hundred times a day, mostly links with attached headlines, and what little commentary there is tends to be pat and parroted from other much more prominent accounts? Probably a bot.

But now the bot-crackdown backlash is here: Over the weekend, the AP filed a bleeding-heart story led off by a 70-year old grandmother who “spends up to 14 hours a day tweeting the praises of President Trump and his political allies.” The story describes her as “part of a dedicated band of Trump supporters who tweet and retweet Keep America Great messages thousands of times a day.” A sample tweet: “Time to walk away Dems and vote RED in the primaries… Say NO to socialism & hate.”

Platforms surely do too much on occasion, removing otherwise innocuous channels or accounts like ones that simply instruct people on how to grow their own weed. But if an account is indistinguishable from a bot in that it produces 70,000 content-free tweets per day, spewing a boring soup of words like “socialism,” “dems,” “hate,” “red,” it’s not doing Twitter right anyway. Go get a glass of water, while we still have it. Go outside, while we still have it. Breathe the fresh air, while we still have it.

The threshold for suspending or removing an account should not be whether it’s a bot or not, but whether it’s materially adding to the discourse. That bar can be absurdly low, but if a user’s frenetic pace and lack of originality can’t be meaningfully distinguished from a bot, maybe the algorithm that silences them is working perfectly.

“Being too online” gets a bot deleted, and real people need that smackdown, too.