Many of us remember the Twitter revolution. Twitter was social, it was live, it was raw, and it was seemingly flawed with character limitations (which made for some interesting workarounds). When it arrived at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin in March of 2007, I was actually there. It was truly remarkable. Seeing the value in its brevity, I was an early user of Twitter for business and social purposes. The company I ran at the time was reaching out to developers, and developers were heavy early users of Twitter.
Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase withdrawal exposed something that few were able to see at the time. Over the last 15 years, Twitter had unfortunately transformed into a pseudo-farce, and somewhat of a spectacle. What they were selling was worse than vaporware because the majority of people out there assumed that the “Twitterverse” was real – that these were real people, real trends, real upvotes, and real accounts. Twitter’s real business was never people, or their opinions. With time, no oversight, and unchecked power, their product morphed as they allowed it to grow through bots, fake accounts, fake followers, fake trends, and fake headlines.
Bots are The Ultimate Hack
While most everyone justifiably has their eyes peeled for nefarious cyber-attacks, the impact of bots in everyday places has slipped under the general radar. Bots are making people a lot of money, a lot of power, and a lot of influence. The perception of influence is very powerful. The influence of fake accounts and fake campaigns can make a man president or keep another from reaching that office. They can ruin the reputations of people, groups, companies, and spread lies. These influences can hype up (or hype down) crypto markets. They created, or at the very least influenced, the phenomenon of meme stocks. Fortunes can be made or lost on the power of bots, and I have been flagging this from the beginning, on all platforms available to me.
Bots are the subterfuge that invades normal everyday forums where we expect to deal with other people. This invasion is the ultimate hack because when we engage in forums, in social channels, and arenas of public conversation, we expect that to be with real people in real conversations. Yet that hardly seems to ever be the case, because somewhere, somehow, bots have probably invaded every platform out there. The Twitter situation just proves it.
Even worse, and somewhat amazingly, you can buy all of this bot influence for the right price. Oh yes, bot campaigns can be self-built with the right investment, or you can find all the pieces in the seedy underground of the web.
Sunlight Disinfects Bots Too
“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” This famous phrase by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis comes to mind in the midst of this Twitter debacle. Elon Musk’s campaign to buy, then reject the purchase of Twitter will hopefully drag enough sunlight into the room where the public might begin to see that everything may not be what it seems.
As this event potentially plays out over time, there’s a good chance we will get to see the real bot numbers, all of the fake accounts, and the algorithms that control the trends, hashtags, and inner workings of who gets to be deplatformed.
The promise of self-learning and intelligent computing should not have played out this way. It is high time that events should turn this ship around. It is especially frustrating that with proper authenticity and authentication, the bot phenomenon could have been prevented. These technologies were available to use in 2007 and are still available today. Twitter just lacked the will to implement them despite all the warning signs.
In the real world, people verify all the time. People don’t stand in the middle of an intersection and get financial advice from the cars that pass. Even deeper into that scenario, imagine that the cars are self-driving, and they have messages on them designed to get you to throw money into the window.
That’s not what people do. They go to somebody who is qualified in financial matters and whose expertise can be verified. In the real world, we rely on references, research, and eye-to-eye conversations before we form opinions or make decisions. Humans validate all the time.
Finding a Way Back
Now, it appears that all this falsehood and the presence of bots have destroyed Twitter’s financial value. Lawsuits are just around the corner and the whole mess will take years until Twitter is just a shell, perhaps like the final years of Myspace. Anything can happen. Shareholders could sue the board. The company will probably sue Musk. Musk will probably sue the company for fraud, etc. It could have all been easily avoided with better authentication.
Ultimately, the decision to foment and create falseness in a community where real users expected authenticity is an epic disgrace. Let’s clean up bots everywhere by creating better authenticity through authentication. Other platforms and social media companies (namely Reddit, and Facebook) need to especially heed this before it is too late for them as well.