Millions of social bots invaded Twitter!

Our work titled Online Human-Bot Interactions: Detection, Estimation, and Characterization has been accepted for publication at the prestigious International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM 2017) to be held in Montreal, Canada in May 2017!

The goal of this study was twofold: first, we aimed at understanding how difficult is to detect social bots on Twitter respectively for machine learning models and for humans. Second, we wanted to perform a census of the Twitter population to estimate how many accounts are not controlled by humans, but rather by computer software (bots).

To address the first question, we developed a family of machine learning models that leverages over one thousand features characterising the online behaviour of Twitter accounts. We then trained these models with manually-annotated collections of examples of human and bot-controlled accounts across the spectrum of complexity, ranging from simple bots to very sophisticated ones fueled by advanced AI. We discovered that, while human accounts and simple bots are very easy to identify, both by other humans and by our models, there exist a family of sophisticated social AIs that systematically escape identification by our models and by human snap-judgment.

Our second finding reveals that a significant fraction of Twitter accounts, between 9% and 15%,  are likely social bots. This translates in nearly 50 million accounts, according to recent estimates that put the Twitter userbase at above 320 million. Although not all bots are dangerous, many are used for malicious purposes: in the past, for example, Twitter bots have been used to manipulate public opinion during election times, to manipulate the stock market, and by extremist groups for radical propaganda.

To learn more, read our paper: Online Human-Bot Interactions: Detection, Estimation, and Characterization.

Cite as:

Onur Varol, Emilio Ferrara, Clayton Davis, Filippo Menczer, Alessandro Flammini. Online Human-Bot Interactions: Detection, Estimation, and Characterization. ICWSM 2017


Press Coverage

  1. Twitter Bot — or Not? – The New York Times
  2. Searching for proof of Amy – San Francisco Examiner
  3. News That 48 Million Of Twitter’s Users May Be Bots Could Impact Its Valuation – Forbes
  4. Fake accounts scandal weighs on Twitter boss – The Times
  5. Pressure Grows on Twitter CEO Dorsey Amid Bot Scandal – The Street
  6. CMO Today: Marketers and Political Wonks Gather for SXSW – The Wall Street Journal
  7. Huge number of Twitter accounts are not operated by humans – ABC News
  8. Early Twitter investor Chris Sacca says he ‘hates’ the stock, calls bot issue ‘embarrassing’ – CNBC
  9. Up to 48 million Twitter accounts are bots, study says – CNET
  10. R u bot or not? – VICE
  11. New Machine Learning Framework Uncovers Twitter’s Vast Bot Population – VICE/Motherboard
  12. A Whopping 48 Million Twitter Accounts Are Actually Just Bots, Study Says – Tech Times
  13. 15 Percent Of Twitter Accounts May Be Bots [STUDY] – Value Walk
  14. Why the Rise of Bots is a Concern for Social Networks – Enterpreneuer
  15. Study reveals whopping 48M Twitter accounts are actually bots – CBS News
  16. Twitter is home to nearly 48 million bots, according to report – The Daily Dot
  17. As many as 48 million Twitter accounts aren’t people, says study – CNBC
  18. New Study Says 48 Million Accounts On Twitter Are Bots – We are social media
  19. Almost 48 million Twitter accounts are bots – Axios
  20. Twitter user accounts: around 15% or 48 million are bots [study] – The Vanguard
  21. Report: 48 Million Twitter Accounts Are Bots – Breitbart
  22. Rise of the TWITTERBOTS – Daily Mail
  23. 15 per cent of Twitter is bots, but not the Kardashian kind – The Inquirer
  24. 48 mn Twitter accounts are bots, says study – The Economic Times
  25. 9-15 per cent of Twitter accounts are bots, reveals study – Financial Express
  26. Nearly 48 million Twitter accounts are bots: study – Deccan herald
  27. Study: Nearly 48 Million Twitter Accounts Are Fake; Many Push Political Agendas – The Libertarian Republic
  28. As many as 48 million accounts on Twitter are actually bots, study finds – Sacramento Bee
  29. Study Reveals Roughly 48M Twitter Accounts Are Actually Bots – CBS DFW
  30. Up to 48 million Twitter accounts may be Bots – Financial Buzz
  31. Up to 15% of Twitter accounts are not real people – Blasting News
  32. Tech Bytes: Twitter is Being Invaded by Bots – WDIO Eyewitness News
  33. About 9-15% of Twitter accounts are bots: Study – The Indian Express
  34. Twitter Has Nearly 48 Million Bot Accounts, So Don’t Get Hurt By All Those Online Trolls – India Times
  35. Twitter May Have 45 Million Bots on Its Hands – Investopedia
  36. Bots run amok on Twitter – My Broadband
  37. 9-15% of Twitter accounts are bots: Study – MENA FN
  38. Up To 15 Percent Of Twitter Users Are Bots, Study Says – Vocativ
  39. 48 million active Twitter accounts could be bots – Gearbrain
  40. Study: 15% of Twitter accounts could be bots – Marketing Dive
  41. 15% of Twitter users are actually bots, study claims – MemeBurn
  42. Almost 48 million Twitter accounts are bots – Click Lancashire
  43. As many as 48 million or around 15% of Twitter accounts are bots – TechWorm
  44. Twitter Has an Overwhelming 48 Million Bot Accounts – GineersNow

Press in non-English media

  1. Bis zu 48 von 319 Mio. Twitter-Nutzern sind Bots – Kronen Zeitung (in German)
  2. Bad Bot oder Mensch – das ist hier die Frage – Medien Milch (in German)
  3. Studie: Bis zu 48 Millionen Twitter-Nutzer sind in Wirklichkeit Bots – T3N (in German)
  4. Der Aufstieg der Twitter-Bots: 48 Millionen Nutzer sind nicht menschlich – Studie – Sputnik News (in German)
  5. Studie: Bis zu 48 Millionen Nutzer auf Twitter sind Bots – der Standard (in German)
  6. “Blade Runner”-Test für Twitter-Accounts: Bot oder Mensch? – der Standard (in German)
  7. Bot-Paradies Twitter – Sachsische Zeitung (in German)
  8. 15 Prozent Social Bots? – DLF24 (in German)
  9. TWITTER: IST JEDER SIEBTE USER EIN BOT? – UberGizmo (in German)
  10. Twitter: Bis zu 48 Millionen Bot-Profile – Heise (in German)
  11. Studie: Bis zu 15 Prozent aller aktiven, englischsprachigen Twitter-Konten sind Bots – Netzpolitik (in German)
  12. Automatische Erregung – Wiener Zeitung (in German)
  13. Un 15% de los usuarios de Twitter son bots – El Mundo (in Spanish)
  14. Al menos el 15 por ciento de las cuentas de Twitter son bots – El Tiempo (in Spanish)
  15. 15 por ciento de las cuentas de Twitter son ‘bots’: estudio – CNET (in Spanish)
  16. El 15% de las cuentas de Twitter son bots – Gestion (in Spanish)
  17. 48 de los 319 millones de usuarios activos de Twitter son bots – TIC Beat (in Spanish)
  18. 15% de las cuentas de Twitter son ‘bots’ – Merca 2.0 (in Spanish)
  19. 48 de los 319 de usuarios activos en Twitter son bots – MDZ (in Spanish)
  20. Twitter, paradis des «bots»? – Slate (in French)
  21. Twitter compterait 48 millions de comptes gérés par des robots – MeltyStyle (in French)
  22. Twitter : 48 millions de comptes sont des bots – blog du moderateur (in French)
  23. ’30 tot 50 miljoen actieve Twitter-accounts zijn bots’ – NOS (in Dutch)
  24. 48 εκατομμύρια χρήστες στο Twitter δεν είναι άνθρωποι, σύμφωνα με έρευνα Πηγή – LiFo (in Greek)
  25. 48 triệu người dùng Twitter là bot và mối nguy hại – Khoa Hoc Phattrien (in Vietnamese)