Twitter’s bot problem
Originally, Twitter verified profiles of people who were prominent in a particular field. Every verified profile would get the coveted Twitter Verified Checkmark. Having a verified checkmark meant that you were considered influential and the other users would trust you and follow you.
As a Twitter user wanting to grow your network (followers), you’d have to produce content that your followers cared about. This could be anything – poetry, random interesting facts, fake news, sport information, tech updates, trolling celebrities, etc – as long as there are users interested in reading your tweets. As you can see, this is a time taking process and you really need some sort of a skill. By doing this, you’d increase your influence and this meant that there would be companies sponsoring your activities and you’d start making real money.
The two key problems here:
- Skill required to create good content
- The time it takes to build your influence by growing your network
To solve these problems, there have been some bad actors who have figure that they could create thousands of bot accounts and by taking payments, they’d have them follow your account. This solves both of your problems. You pay a certain amount of money, for say, 10,000 followers and expand your network. You didn’t have to post good content or had to wait for a few years. You solved both the problems by throwing money at the problem.
With this expanded network, you apply to Twitter to verify your profile and Twitter obliges and marks your profile as verified and gives you the verified checkmark. Being a verified user, the possibilities are now endless. Produce content, get sponsorship deals, become a billionaire, invest in companies, watch them become unicorns, leprechauns and whatnot and then, write a book. If you don’t write a book, your success just didn’t happen. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit if there ain’t no book!
Learning about the success of this business model, the other bad actors figured that they could replicate it easily. So, they created a ton of these fake bot networks and started selling them. These networks can make you seem really famous over a period of 2-4 days. Imagine having 25,000 followers and a verified checkmark in a matter of 1-2 weeks. More and more people started subscribing to this approach and thus, Twitter ended up having millions of bot accounts.
Twitter’s solution to their bot problem
After Elon took over Twitter, he immediately changed the way Twitter handled showing the verified checkmarks. Instead of forcing users to buy fake bot followers, he forced them to buy the Twitter Blue subscription. You pay $8/month and get the blue verified checkmark. You either pay for it, or lose your special privilege on the network.
This basically discourages these influencers from buying follower bot networks as they get the blue verified checkmark by donating money to Elon. So far, it seems like the bot problem is being handled well.
The under-appreciated beauty of Twitter
Contrary to what most people claim on random Mastodon instances, Twitter isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Twitter is a unique and wonderful place for users around the world to share their thoughts. What makes it beautiful is its constraints.
- the 280 character limit (personally, I prefer the 140 limit)
- the inability to edit a tweet after it’s posted
These are the constraints that made it popular as they force a user to put more thought into crafting their tweets. If you use the 10,000 character limit, available for Twitter Blue subscribers, it’d be easier and the quality of your content wouldn’t necessarily be as high as your well thought out tweet within the 280 character limit.
Twitter Blue users won’t have these constraints, the ones that make Twitter what it is.
With these constraints removed, Twitter is going to become a dull social network. I’ve always been rooting for Twitter to succeed, but the path that Twitter is heading down, doesn’t seem promising.
As of 04/20/2023 (Elon is obsessed with 420 and 69), all the original verified profiles lost their checkmarks. With this change, the way I viewed Twitter profiles has also changed. I browsed Twitter yesterday, it felt different. It felt nice. Most of the verified profiles that I had been following, suddenly seemed more approachable. I even tweeted about it yesterday.
Elon has been trying so hard to shove Twitter Blue down Twitter’s users’ throats. He has been seen implying that freedom of speech can be preserved by subscribing to Twitter Blue. At its face value, it might sound silly, but the sheer number of users who’ve subscribed to his ideology and Twitter Blue, seem to love it. Good for them. However, the others are just happy being free unverified users.
If I were the CEO of Twitter…
Every social network, not just Twitter, suffers from this problem. If I were the CEO of Twitter, I’d solve the problem the following way:
- Separate out user verification and subscription
- Every account that wants to be verified will be charged a 1-time payment. The user would have to submit some sort of a government issued ID to verify that they are who they claim to be. Having a subscription tied to verification is outright stupid and doesn’t make sense at all. Suddenly you’re not verified after you stop paying the subscription price? That’s just silly
- The number of verified followers would dictate your reach on Twitter
- Every verified user will unlock features such as who can interact with them (just verified or non-verified too), etc
- Every non-verified user will have limitations. The number of users they can follow, the number users they can @mention in a tweet, the amount of interaction with other users etc
- Only verified users can opt in to a subscription
- A subscriber would not have Ads displayed on their accounts, can upload videos longer than the basic 2 min 20 sec limitation, highly likely to be discovered more on Twitter, support for analytics on a per tweet basis
- All follower count will be hidden
At a large scale, there’s no right solution to handling this problem. There are only less-wrong solutions at best.