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Elon Musk Vowed to Defeat Spam Bots on Twitter, but What Are They: Explained

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Billionaire Elon Musk on Friday put on hold his $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,40,800 crore) takeover plan for Twitter, as he waited for details on the microblogging platform’s claim that fake accounts comprise less than five percent of users.

Musk, who has made weeding out fake Twitter accounts and spam bots the central theme of his takeover plan, said if he buys the social-media platform he “will defeat the spam bots or die trying”.

He has constantly blamed the company’s over-reliance on advertising for the relentless spread of spam bots.

Twitter, like other social media companies, has been battling spam bots over the past few years through software that spots and blocks them.

So, what are spam bots and what counts as a fake Twitter account?

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Spam bots or fake accounts are designed to manipulate or artificially boost activity on social media platforms such as Twitter.

If accounts on the platform engage in “bulk, aggressive or deceptive activity that misleads people”, then these activities are considered as platform manipulation, according to the company’s policy.

Overlapping accounts that share similar content, mass registrations of accounts, using automated or coordinated accounts to create fake engagements and trading in followers are listed as violations of Twitter’s spam policy.

A Twitter survey conducted across four countries showed that the biggest user concern was the existence of “too many bots or fake accounts”.

How does Twitter detect fake accounts?

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Twitter has a team that identifies real people and robots on its platform. The company uses machine learning and investigators to recognize patterns of malicious activity.

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The algorithms challenge through 5 million to 10 million accounts per week.

Twitter, however, allows parody, newsfeed, commentary, and fan accounts, provided they disclose the nature of the account in the bio.

What does Twitter do with fake accounts?

When Twitter detects a fake account, it may lock the account or seek verification. In case of multiple accounts, the user may be asked to keep one.

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Are all bots bad?

Twitter thinks not all bots are bad and has launched a label to tag the good ones.

“Who doesn’t love a handful of robots who promise not to rise up against us?” the company’s Twitter Safety handle tweeted in September last year.

Good bots allow automated accounts to share useful information such as updates on COVID-19 updates and traffic.

“Knowing who’s real is fundamental to the integrity of the internet,” said Tamer Hassan, CEO of cybersecurity firm HUMAN.

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“When it comes to managing the threat sophisticated bots pose to organizations, most companies are trying not to lose. Defensive strategies focus on minimizing damage rather than playing to win.”

Why Musk hates spam bots?

Musk, a self-proclaimed free speech absolutist, wants Twitter to become a forum for free speech, which he believes is “the bedrock of a functioning democracy”, and sees spam bots as a threat to this idea.

In a recent TedX interview, Musk said his top priority was to remove “bot armies” on Twitter, calling out bots that promote crypto-based scams on Twitter.

“They make the product much worse. If I had a Dogecoin for every crypto scam I saw, we’d have 100 billion Dogecoin.”

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© Thomson Reuters 2022


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Meta Oversight Board Calls for Overhaul of ‘Cross-Check’ Programme That Prioritises VIP Users

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Meta Platforms’ Oversight Board recommended on Tuesday that the company revamp its system exempting high-profile users from its rules, saying the practice privileged the powerful and allowed business interests to influence content decisions.

The arrangement, called cross-check, adds a layer of enforcement review for millions of Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to celebrities, politicians and other influential users, allowing them extra leeway to post content that violates the company’s policies.

Cross-check “prioritises users of commercial value to Meta and as structured does not meet Meta’s human rights responsibilities and company values,” Oversight Board director Thomas Hughes said in a statement announcing the decision.

The board had been reviewing the cross-check programme since last year, when whistleblower Frances Haugen exposed the extent of the system by leaking internal company documents to the Wall Street Journal.

Those documents revealed that the programme was both larger and more forgiving of influential users than Meta had previously told the Oversight Board, which is funded by the company through a trust and operates independently.

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Without controls on eligibility or governance, cross-check sprawled to include nearly anyone with a substantial online following, although even with millions of members it represents a tiny slice of Meta’s 3.7 billion total users.

In 2019, the system blocked the company’s moderators from removing nude photos of a woman posted by Brazilian soccer star Neymar, even though the post violated Meta’s rules against “nonconsensual intimate imagery,” according to the WSJ report.

The board at the time of the report rebuked Meta for not being “fully forthcoming” in its disclosures about cross-check.

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In the opinion it issued on Tuesday, the board said it agreed that Meta needed mechanisms to address enforcement mistakes, given the extraordinary volume of user-generated content the company moderates each day.

However, it added, Meta “has a responsibility to address these larger problems in ways that benefit all users and not just a select few.”

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It made 32 recommendations that it said would structure the programme more equitably, including transparency requirements, audits of the system’s impact and a more systematic approach to eligibility.

State actors, it said, should continue to be eligible for inclusion in the programme, but based only on publicly available criteria, with no other special preferences.

The Oversight Board’s policy recommendations are not binding, but Meta is required to respond to them, normally within 60 days.

A spokeswoman for the Oversight Board said the company had asked for and received an extension in this case, so it would have 90 days to respond.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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Facebook Dating Will Allow Users to Verify Their Age Using AI Face Scanning, Meta Says

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Meta on Monday announced that it has introduced a new method for users to verify their age on its Facebook Dating service. Facebook is experimenting with methods, such as using an AI face scanner, to allow users of the platform’s dating service to verify their age.

Meta announced in a blog post that it would start prompting users on Facebook Dating to verify that they’re over 18 if the platform suspects a user is underage.

Users can then verify their age by sharing a selfie video that Facebook shares with a third-party business or by uploading a copy of their ID. According to Meta, the company, Yoti, uses facial cues to determine a user’s age without identifying them.

Meta says the new age verification systems will help stop children from accessing features meant for adults. It doesn’t appear that there are any requirements for adults to verify their age on Facebook Dating.

The US social media giant has used Yoti for other age verification purposes, including vetting Instagram users who attempt to change their birthdate to make them 18 or older.

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However, according to a report by The Verge, the system isn’t equally accurate for all people: Yoti’s data shows that its accuracy is worse for “female” faces and people with darker complexions.

Last year, Instagram announced that it had started prompting users to fill in their birthday details. The prompts could initially be dismissed but the social media giant eventually made it compulsory for users who wanted to continue using Instagram. The prompts were designed to ascertain how old users were on Instagram and prevent content that isn’t suitable for young people to appear on their feed. At the time, Instagram had stated that the information is necessary for new features it was developing to protect young people.

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Meta Threatens to Remove News From Platform if US Congress Passes Media Bill

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Facebook parent Meta Platforms on Monday threatened to remove news from its platform if the US Congress passes a proposal aimed at making it easier for news organisations to negotiate collectively with companies like Alphabet’s Google and Facebook.

Sources briefed on the matter said lawmakers are considering adding the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to a must-pass annual defense bill as way to help the struggling local news industry. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone in a tweet said the company would be forced to consider removing news if the law was passed “rather than submit to government-mandated negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets through increased traffic and subscriptions.”

He added the proposal fails to recognise that publishers and broadcasters put content on the platform because “it benefits their bottom line – not the other way around.”

The News Media Alliance, a trade group representing newspaper publishers, is urging Congress to add the bill to the defense bill, arguing that “local papers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech’s use and abuse, and time to take action is dwindling. If Congress does not act soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper.”

More than two dozen groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Monday urged Congress not to approve the local news bill saying it would “create an ill-advised antitrust exemption for publishers and broadcasters” and argued the bill does not require “funds gained through negotiation or arbitration will even be paid to journalists.”

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A similar Australian law, which took effect in March 2021 after talks with the big tech firms led to a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in the country, has largely worked, a government report said.

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Since the News Media Bargaining Code took effect, various tech firms including Meta and Alphabet have signed more than 30 deals with media outlets, compensating them for content that generated clicks and advertising dollars, the report added.

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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