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Elon Musk and Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal Clash Over Bot-fighting Metrics

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We already know that Twitter is rife with bots. But how full is it, and what kinds of bots are there? With estimates ranging from Twitter’s own “under 5%” to independent researchers claiming 20% or higher, it’s clear that it’s a difficult number to pin down, as the company’s CEO, Parag Agrawal, explained in a thread today. Elon Musk, a potential buyer, responded with a poo emoji.

Agrawal stated that spam and bots are serious issues that all social media platforms face, and that they are also evolving and “dynamic.” “Our adversaries, their goals, and tactics are constantly evolving — frequently in response to our work!” You can’t create a set of spam-detection rules today and hope they’ll still work tomorrow.”

The problem of determining whether an account is automated, semi-human, benign, violating, and so on is not trivial, yet millions of accounts are actioned in some way, and, as with other platforms, usually before they do anything.

READ ALSO: Nigeria’s Topship Raises $2.5 Million in Funding from Flexport and YC to Assist Merchants With International Shipping.

One reason it’s difficult to tell whether an account is “real” or not, depending on what definition of “real” you use, is that there’s only so much information available publicly. According to Agrawal, “the use of private data is especially important to avoid misclassifying users who are actually real.” FirstnameBunchOfNumbers with no profile pic and odd tweets may appear to be a bot or spam to you, but we often see multiple indicators that it’s a real person behind the scenes.”

By “private data,” he most likely means things like direct message activity, logins, and browsing behavior that are invisible to outsiders but visible to internal systems. Many Twitter users interact with the platform in a quiet manner, and who can blame them?

This is advantageous for Twitter because no one can verify the numbers it publishes. Though there is little reason to believe the company is outright fabricating or doctoring the numbers here, it is undeniable that they have the motive and opportunity to do so in subtle ways that would only be visible to an auditor who has access to the same data as they do.

The issue of user authenticity, of course, is central to a social media platform’s reach and ability to monetize, and we’ve seen time and again that falsifying or misrepresenting these numbers can have serious consequences for advertisers and premium service subscribers’ willingness to pay.

Or, as billionaire and Twitter hopeful Elon Musk put it: “💩”

“So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money?” he asks. This is critical to Twitter’s financial health,” is perplexing. As someone ostensibly interested in starting a social media company, it’s difficult to believe he wouldn’t have done some basic research on the metrics that the industry uses to track these things. After all, as Agrawal points out, these figures have been reported on a regular basis for quite some time.

It’s not that the question is bad; it’s just odd that he would ask it now, after making a very risky buyout offer for the business — a business of which he appears to be unfamiliar with the fundamentals. Companies that monetize engagement, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat, have been defining and redefining “how advertisers know what they’re getting for their money” for over a decade.

Of course, there has long been a famous disconnect between advertising and results — the old “half works and half doesn’t, but no one knows which half is which” conundrum.

The most pressing question here does not appear to be, “How do we know engagement is genuine?” but rather, why has Elon Musk only recently begun investigating this? It’s akin to purchasing a horse and then looking up the word “horse” in the dictionary. The apparent lack of familiarity not only with the complexities of Twitter, but also with the way the social media ad market and authenticity metrics are defined and handled in general will undoubtedly add to the concerns of those who believe Musk is not the best person to lead the company.

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Instagram Testing New Tool for Age Verification

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According to parent company Meta, Instagram is developing a new feature to stop minors from impersonating adults. Instagram will request identification if a user whose account indicates they are under 18 tries to manually change their date of birth on the platform.

A valid ID or driver’s license, “social vouching,” in which three adult users are asked to verify the age, or a video selfie are the three methods that people can demonstrate their age.

With social vouching, the three adult users must answer to the request within three days and cannot be vouching at the same time for anybody else. Instagram sends a video selfie to Yoti, a business whose technology can determine someone’s age based on their facial traits. Instagram explains how to take the video and claims that the selfies are erased once the verification process is over.

Younger users who have already informed Instagram that they are adults will not be caught by its new tool. Although Meta’s blog post does not specifically mention it, the new tool will be used to verify that users of the app are at least 13 years old in order to join up. 

Over the past year, Instagram has been the subject of inquiries questioning the app’s influence on teenagers. Attorneys general from a number of jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, Florida, and California, started scrutinizing Meta, claiming the firm was aware that Instagram could be harmful to children’s physical and emotional health. Additionally, The Wall Street Journal ran a series based in part on hacked papers, one of which claimed that Facebook was aware of Instagram’s “toxic” effects on teen girls’ body image and mental health.

Meta disputed the claims made by the states and added that the Journal had incorrectly described the leaked documents. The business said that some internal studies had revealed that using Instagram had improved some youngsters’ perceptions of their bodies.

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Alexa Could One Day Speak in Your Dead Loved One’s Voice

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One day, Amazon Alexa might be able to speak to you in the voices of departed loved ones. At Amazon’s re:MARS conference on Wednesday, the new voice assistant feature was noted as a method to “make memories last.”

Alexa would be able to mimic a person’s voice when speaking after less than a minute of listening to that person’s speech. According to Sky News, a child in a video of the feature asked Alexa to read them a story, and she agreed before changing her voice.

It’s unclear how far along the feature is in development or when Alexa voice assistants might start receiving it. We might not see this functionality any time soon because the re:MARS (for machine learning, automation, robots, and space) event highlights what Amazon is doing in ambient computing, including developments in Alexa.

The capacity to replicate a voice pattern precisely raises security concerns as well, but we’ll reserve judgment until we know how well Alexa can imitate a voice after only hearing it briefly. We’ll also watch how the function is accepted; even though it appears to require consent from users, there are ethical concerns over the rights of the deceased’s voice and how long they should be preserved.

An Amazon spokeswoman said the voice-imitating tool isn’t specifically designed for family members who have passed away. It is based on recent developments in text-to-speech technology, which are detailed in an Amazon white paper from this year. The team applied a voice filter to produce high-quality voice with much less data than was required when hours-long voice recordings in a professional studio were used to create the voice files.

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Twitter Tests Long-Form Notes That Let People Go Beyond the Character Limit

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Twitter said on Wednesday that it is testing Notes, a tool similar to a blog post that lets users publish longer pieces of writing on the social network.

By eliminating the need to use the Twitter thread and divide their views across numerous tweets, the functionality makes it simpler for people to publish long-form work. The content of notes can also contain images, videos, tweets, or GIFs.

“As the platform for writers, it’s clear that Twitter is essential — from the proximity to an engaged audience, to the conversation around a writer’s work, to the community of readers (and, often, cheerleaders) that Twitter provides, to the critical role it plays in the livelihoods and careers of writers, on and off Twitter,” Twitter’s editorial director, Rembert Browne, said in a Note on the platform.

Both on and off Twitter, users can read Notes, and you can see all of a person’s Notes on the new tab on their profile. According to Twitter, the Notes test is being conducted by a small number of writers in the US, Canada, UK, and Ghana. When Notes might be made more readily available is not yet known by the company.

A long-requested feature from anyone who has ever made a typo in a tweet, an edit button was finally being tested by Twitter in April. The website has now launched Twitter Blue, a paid subscription service that enables users to edit tweets, submit longer videos, and read news without advertisements.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is in the middle of a proposed $44 billion acquisition of the platform. Musk has said he wants to quash bots on the platform and get 1 billion users on Twitter.

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