There are a lot of accounts on Twitter that aren't being operated by their owner tapping away at a keyboard. Plenty are bots, and plenty are selling cheap Viagra. Twitter isn't entirely sure exactly how many of its users are either fake or spamming or run by a computer, but it seems like that number is somewhere around the 23 million mark.
In a recent filing to the SEC, Twitter said that around 8.5 per cent of its 271 million monthly active users, or MAUs, are something other than human — that is, they contact Twitter's servers for regular updates with "no discernable user action involved". That filing is, according to Quartz, intended to clarify a previous point that suggested almost double that percentage accessed Twitter through its API rather than through official apps and the Web interface.
Although the legalese is a little difficult to decipher, what Twitter is basically saying is that that 8.5 per cent figure represents automated accounts — maybe they're spammers, maybe they're just fun robots. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' online population clock, our sunburnt country has 23,563,233-ish citizens. Give or take a few hundred thousand, there are just as many bots on Twitter as there are meat popsicles in Australia.
Our metrics are also affected by third-party applications that automatically contact our servers for regular updates with no user action involved, and this activity can cause our system to count the users associated with such applications as active users on the day or days such contact occurs. Historically we tracked and reported in this section all users who accessed Twitter through third-party applications.
We have reviewed and refined our processes, however, to calculate a new metric that is comprised of only such active users who have used applications with the capability to automatically contact our servers for regular updates where there was no discernable user action involved.
In the three months ended June 30, 2014, approximately 11% of all active users solely used third-party applications to access Twitter. However, only up to approximately 8.5% of all active users used third party applications that may have automatically contacted our servers for regular updates without any discernable additional user-initiated action.
Update: So apparently Quartz is wrong. Twitter got in touch with us to issue a clarification:
- Our 10-Q filed yesterday says that 11 percent of our MAUs access Twitter solely through some application that we don't own or operate.
- We also said that as much as 8.5 percent of our MAUs have the ability to auto-pull content on behalf of a user without any action.
- The 8.5 percent is what Quartz used to compute its 23 million figure, but as we just said, that figure has nothing to do with Tweeting, and everything to do with the consumption of content in a third-party app.
- To say that there are 23 million bots in our MAU number is factually incorrect and not supported by any documentation.