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Twitter’s Elon Musk Lawsuit Could Center on Bot Accounts: All You Need to Know

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If Twitter’s lawsuit over Elon Musk’s $44 billion buyout bid ever reaches trial, the case will likely centre on a ubiquitous and often unloved technology: bots.

The information Twitter has or has not provided on its tally of fake or spam accounts is Musk’s stated reason for backing away from the deal — a move that prompted the firm to sue him this week.

Here’s a closer look at the complications around bot accounts, and how they would be key in deciding the case.

Good bot, bad bot

At a basic level, “bots” are software programs that do automated tasks online, often with the aim of emulating how people behave.

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Twitter tolerates some automated uses, like an account that tweets every time the Hubble space telescope crosses the sky over a given city.

But, Twitter has rules about automated actions by accounts, including barring software from posting about hot topics, firing off spam, attempting to influence online conversations, and operating across multiple accounts.

The company says it wages a daily campaign against spam or fake accounts that keeps their number to less than five percent of users.

Musk‘s lawyers, in notifying Twitter on July 8 that he was “terminating” the agreement to buy the company, alleged the platform made “false and misleading representations” about bots and had not provided details he needed to check its assertions.

Thorny question

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Determining the number of bots on the site is a bit of an art because the tally is determined in part by Twitter’s internal definitions and the workers who apply the rules.

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While some cases are clear-cut violations, some can require the judgement of people who have to weigh various facts.

“People can disagree on what should be considered a bot or a spam account,” said Edwin Chen, a former Twitter employee, who is now CEO of content moderation firm Surge AI.

The figure would also be tricky for an outsider like Musk to confirm because the bot weeding process can include checking IP or email addresses or other sensitive user data.

“I think a lot of people, not even just my former colleagues but people just generally within the tech industry, know that this is a thorny, thorny question,” Chen added.

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Twitter’s lawsuit, which urges a court to force Musk to honour his buyout offer, could result in a trial or settlement talks that would need to plunge into the finer points of things like the firm’s bot definitions and policies.

Musk’s lawyers said he has already asked for but had not received “Twitter’s methodology and performance data” about finding and suspending spam and fake accounts.

“In short, Twitter has not provided information that Mr Musk has requested for nearly two months,” the lawyers wrote in laying out the argument for aiming to abandon the deal.

The deal with Twitter

Speculation has mounted that the bot issue — with its tricky, detailed and case-by-case aspects — is just a convenient route for Musk to abandon or renegotiate his proposal.

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Yet, bots are a problem online.

“Bad actors have nearly infinite resources and incentives to use bots for nefarious purposes,” said Tamer Hassan, co-founder and chief of cybersecurity firm Human.

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Bots are used in more than three-quarters of security and fraud incidents that happen online, from spreading socially divisive posts to snapping up hot concert tickets and hacking, Hassan told AFP.

Also, Twitter makes its money from ads, and marketers pay for reaching people, not software.

Thus “advertising to bots isn’t going to have a good close rate because bots don’t buy products,” analyst Rob Enderle told AFP previously.

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If advertisers are paying Twitter fees based on how many people see ads, and those numbers are inflated due to bots in the online audience, they are being overcharged, Enderle added.

If Twitter has way more bots than it is letting on, its revenue could plunge when those accounts are exposed and closed.

Or as Musk’s lawyers put it, Twitter’s true daily users who can be shown advertising are “a key component of the company’s business, given that approximately 90 percent of its revenues come from advertisements.”


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Facebook, Instagram Integration Improved With Deeper Account Centre Integration by Meta

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Facebook and Instagram are set to offer better integration as parent company Meta announced it is testing a deeper integration across both platforms. The firm has revealed two updates that include a new user interface for the Accounts Center feature across mobile and Web platforms, and a redesigned login and onboarding experience on its mobile apps. The tests include two new features that are intended to make it easier for users to switch between and create new accounts and profiles on Facebook and Instagram. The company is also testing allowing users to receive notifications for both Facebook and Instagram profiles in the same place.

In an announcement on its blog, Meta revealed that the new interface is currently in testing and allows existing users who have added their Instagram and Facebook credentials to the same Account Center, to switch between the two apps without navigating to their phone’s home screen, multitasking menu, or app drawer. Meanwhile, a redesigned mobile login and onboarding experience being tested allows iOS and Android users to sign in or create multiple accounts from a single Instagram or Facebook credential.

Meta also confirmed that existing security features will continue to apply to the updates that include blocking unrecognized devices from using interoperating login credentials for Instagram and Facebook accounts that have the two-factor authentication feature turned on for either of the accounts.

Users will also be notified of any account activity across Facebook and Instagram accounts on a single Accounts Center section including the creation of a newly linked Facebook or Instagram account, according to the company.

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Meta says it is now testing the new user interface on iOS, Android, and the Web while the login and onboarding workflow redesign is being tested on iOS and Android. The company adds that both features are being tested across the globe. The new features are “currently limited to Facebook and Instagram,” Meta said.

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The updates have arrived post the introduction of Meta accounts in August of this year and a recently reported downturn in both revenue and user growth for the American social-media giant.


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Instagram Story Time Limit Increased to 60 Seconds: Report

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Instagram is reportedly increasing the time limit for Instagram Stories to 60 seconds, from the earlier limit of 15 seconds. Previously, Instagram Stories that were longer than 15 seconds would be broken up into separate segments. The social media company is said to have begun testing the change with select users towards the end of last year. Earlier this month, Instagram rolled out parental supervision tools and Family Center in India. Meta had announced the parental supervision tools and the Family Center tool back in March. The company was recently slapped with EUR 405 million (roughly Rs. 3,200 crore) fine for violating strict European Union data privacy rules.

According to a recent report by TechCrunch, Instagram confirmed that it is increasing the time limit of Instagram stories to 60 seconds from the earlier limit of 15 seconds. Previously, if a user had posted a video longer than 15 seconds, it used to get broken up into smaller segments. This made the process of uploading videos to Instagram Stories more challenging, including tagging and mentioning other users.

As mentioned earlier, Instagram is said to have begun testing the new change with select users towards the end of last year.

Earlier this month, Instagram also rolled out parental supervision tools and Family Center in India. The Family Center is a place for parents and guardians to access supervision tools and resources from leading experts. These tools will let them see the screen time spent by their kids on Instagram and impose time limits. The new parental controls are part of Meta’s attempts to protect children who actively use its social media apps.

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Instagram was recently slapped with a EUR 405 million (roughly Rs. 3,200 crore) fine for violating strict European Union data privacy rules. The Meta-owned social media platform was found mishandling the personal information of teenagers. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission’s investigation revealed that Instagram displayed the personal information of users between the age of 13 and 17 years. Instagram’s parent Meta said it disagrees with the way the fine was calculated and has expressed its desire to appeal the fine imposed by the regulator.

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Elon Musk, Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal Said to Postpone Depositions Ahead of Upcoming Trial

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk won a reprieve from questioning by Twitter lawyers Monday, according to several press reports. The billionaire had been scheduled to give a deposition in his high-stakes court fight with Twitter over whether he has to follow through with his agreement to buy the social platform for $44 billion (roughly Rs. 3,37,465 crore).

Instead, Musk’s questioning was postponed to a future date. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, who was also scheduled to face Musk lawyers on Monday, likewise postponed his deposition, according to a person who was briefed on the matter.

The Musk postponement was reported by Bloomberg, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, all of which attributed the information to anonymous sources.

News of the postponements fueled a brief rally in Twitter shares, which jumped 5.4 percent to $43.03 (roughly Rs. 3,500), apparently on hopes of a settlement in the case. That enthusiasm waned later in the day. Twitter shares closed Monday at $41.58 (roughly Rs. 3,300), eight cents higher than they opened.

Court watchers said that such postponements are not unusual ahead of major pretrial hearings. A hearing on several significant pretrial motions is scheduled for Tuesday.

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Both men were expected to answer questions posed by opposing lawyers ahead of an October trial that will determine who is at fault for the seeming collapse of Musk’s Twitter bid, not to mention who owes whom large sums of money as a result. The trial is set to begin October 17 in Delaware Chancery Court, where it’s scheduled to last just five days.

Musk, the world’s richest man, agreed in April to buy Twitter and take it private, offering $54.20 (roughly Rs. 4,180) a share and vowing to loosen the company’s policing of content and to root out fake accounts. In July, he attempted to back out of the deal, leveling a number of charges at Twitter as justification for his action.

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Twitter subsequently sued Musk to force him to complete the acquisition.


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