Twitter’s Embracing Automated Accounts

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Graphic: Twitter

After spending the past few years trying to usher out the many, many bots populating its platform, Twitter is finally trying to give some of them a chance. On Thursday, the company announced it would begin testing out labels for some automated accounts—better known as Twitter bots—to let users suss out which ones are helpful, and which should be kicked to the curb.

When most of us hear the word “bot,” we’re probably thinking of the types of accounts meant to sow political discord or act as mouthpieces for foreign governments, but there are countless bots on the platform with other purposes, too. There are bots that remind you to drink water throughout the day, bots that spin out surreal procedurally generated art, and, of course, CatBot 5000.

The problem with these projects—as we’ve seen in the past—is that Twitter is known to apply its bot-beatdowns with a rather broad brush, meaning that people’s therapy and art bots get swept up with those foreign actors. In 2018, dozens of popular art bots with tens of thousands of followers between them were swept up in a massive platform ban that some creators still haven’t fully recovered from.

The good news is that this new label might help keep another one of those wipeouts from happening again. According to Twitter, a limited number of bot-account owners are participating in an invite-only test that will let them identify their botted accounts with the new label. In its blog post explaining the new labels, Twitter described the types of automated accounts we might be seeing early on as bots that, say, help you find a vaccine appointment, or bots that warn you when a hurricane might be nearby.

“When these accounts let you know they’re automated, you get a better understanding of their purpose when you’re interacting with them,” Twitter said. Hopefully in the future, this won’t only include “helpful” bots, but the ones that offer a weird, wonderful reprieve from the platform’s typical noxious hell.

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