New Twitter owner Elon Musk has outsourced several controversial decisions – such as whether to reinstate former US president Donald Trump’s account, and if he should leave the Twitter chief executive job – to public polling on the network, saying he intends to follow the will of the people. But the results of such surveys can be easily gamed by bots, according to new research.
With less than $100 (€94), one can buy tens of thousands of votes for Twitter polls using bot-for-hire manipulation services, according to the non-profit digital rights group Accountable Tech. The finding could spark new concerns about Mr Musk’s reliance on the tool to chart the future of one of the world’s most influential social media companies.
Mr Musk spent months before the acquisition claiming that Twitter’s user numbers were fraudulent due to the preponderance of bots on the platform; lately he has been claiming the problem is resolved. He has said overall user numbers have gone up under his leadership.
There’s no evidence the number of bots has decreased, though. “Not only are bots flourishing under Musk, it’s now easier than ever to use bots to manipulate Twitter polls,” said Nicole Gill, co-founder and executive director of Accountable Tech. “As long as Musk continues to put major platform decisions in the hands of anyone with a few dollars and some spare time, Twitter is unsafe and open to manipulation by bad actors – including foreign governments.”
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.
Since he took the helm of Twitter in October, Mr Musk has turned to polls to create new social media policy on the fly, in spite of protestations from critics that the polls were easily gamed and unrepresentative of Twitter’s user base. And while Mr Musk has declared victory over bots, there is little evidence the platform has actually tamped down the problem. According to a report from Platformer, Mr Musk’s war on bots amounted to Twitter blocking traffic from about 30 mobile carriers around the world, effectively cutting off access to hundreds of thousands of accounts in the Asia-Pacific region. The block on the carriers has since been reversed, Platformer reported.