Where finance and media intersect with reality


Valuing Twitter as a giant zero-day exploit harvesting machine


Elon Musk wants to use a fairly crude sampling methodology (which draws on the wisdom of crowds) to reveal the true scale of bot penetration on Twitter.

He seems to think that if he discovers that the rate is higher than Twitter has admitted to in public filings it could have a material adverse effect on the company’s earning capacity and thus offer a route to renegotiating the terms of his buyout deal.

At this point we can expect that he would want to authenticate all humans and delete all the bots plus all the legacy content they ever generated.

But if higher than expected bot penetration can be a meaningful value destroyer – presumably because it disguises the true number of active users – does that overlook the degree to which bots may in the past have provoked irrational commentary from the Twitter user base? And the degree to which legacy content, even if human generated, can also be considered a liability.

What I’m getting at here is that it is not the presence of bots that is the problem per se. It is the broad spectrum of crappy behavior that such bots incentivize on the platform by humans that is the problem.

You can get rid of the bots, but the irate or badly thought-out replies motivated by the bots will continue to live on.

Meanwhile, we tend to think of our data as an asset. But via the simple passage of time, a lot of the entirely human-generated “hot takes” on the system can be turned into embarrassing and exploitable kompromat by anyone who has the time or inclination to run deep archival, usually bot assisted, searches on targeted individuals.

This to my mind makes the whole system a giant zero-day exploit harvesting machine.

If you can find the right embarrassing tweet of a high profile figure from 10 years ago, you can stage an “attack” with it at exactly the opportune political moment it benefits you.

So yes, authenticating all humans and reducing the bot footprint might improve the valuation of Twitter in the long run. But the deletion of those bot accounts might also make the legacy human content interfacing with those bot accounts look even more unhinged, and thus render the humans even more exploitable. This would be less good for Twitter’s value.

All I know is that there is nothing more annoying than trying to find something you said from 10 years ago in a debate on Twitter only to find 50 per cent of the counterparts have disappeared. Humans have the right to disappear their content. But do bots?

Exposing bot accounts but keeping their content perhaps in a clearly labeled way is likely the better pathway.


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One Response

  1. I suggest that ALL twitter comments over the last 10 years be permanently erased and everyone has to start over! Bots can be identified with a symbol when the appear and perhaps be quickly removed. Of course the Bot originators may flood twitter to render Musk’s democracy mute. Democracy cannot truly work with many bad actors. Ultimately, Human beings, not bots are the real problem.

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