Twitter begins long-awaited crackdown on bots

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Twitter
Will Facebook and Instagram follow suit?
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Twitter has finally begun its long-awaited crackdown on bots.

The company has made changes to its API that make it significantly harder for services to batch tweet to multiple accounts, retweet, follow users, and more. This puts a stop to the software that powers Twitter bots.

Twitter started tackling its massive abuse problem last year; now it is working to fix another big issue users have with its service. By clamping down on third-party software and services, the micro-blogging network is finally pushing out the bots.

Twitter bots be gone

Changes to Twitter’s API prevent many of the activities that make bot accounts possible. Services are no longer able to manage large numbers of accounts. Batch tweeting, retweeting, liking, and following has also been eliminated. There are a few exceptions, however.

“Twitter will continue to allow content to be posted to accounts using software, for example, weather alerts, RSS feed updates and more, but they will now be limited to a single account going forward,” reports TechCrunch. There’s also a caveat for public service information.

Yoel Roth, head of Twitter’s API policy and product trust, explains that “applications that broadcast or share weather, emergency, or other public service announcements of broad community interest” are permitted to post across multiple accounts.

“These changes are an important step in ensuring we stay ahead of malicious activity targeting the crucial conversations taking place on Twitter — including elections in the United States and around the world,” Roth adds.

Follower counts could fall

In some ways this news is disappointing. Not every bot account is bad; some are incredibly useful and informative. But there are far too many bot accounts that were created with the sole purpose of spreading fake news, malicious content, and abuse.

Twitter has previously confirmed that there were over 50,000 bots linked to Russia that attempted to interfere with the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. These concerns are what prompted Twitter to announce a bot clampdown back in January.

It’s not clear exactly how many Twitter accounts are bots. If you have tens of thousands of followers, there’s a good chance a few of them will be bot accounts. Those with a large following will likely see their follower figure fall slightly over the coming weeks.

Twitter’s API changes aren’t all good news, so we can expect to see plenty of fallout from this. For now, however, we can be thankful that the bad bots are finally disappearing.