After experimenting with different display formats for the option over the past two years, Twitter has today launched its first live test of new labels for bot accounts, which it says will help users ‘identify good bots from spammy ones’.

Twitter bot labels

Although it will not be of much assistance in that particular demarcation. Using this example, you can see that the new bot labels will contain a bot symbol underneath the profile name listing, as well as an extra indication of the human-run account that controls the bot.

Moreover, the labels will be presented in-stream, along with a ‘Automated’ marking under the profile name.

Twitter bot labels

That will assist to more clearly identify who, or what, you’re engaging with in the app, as well as how that information is being shared, which may help to better comprehension of the motives behind each account, as well as reduce misunderstanding around particular messaging messages.

However, it will not necessarily assist in the identification of spamming bot accounts, at least not in this context. Twitter’s bot labels are now only being applied to accounts who have opted into the company’s first test, with plans to expand the program in the near future to allow more developers access to the bot label.

So, how will Twitter distinguish between the good bots and the evil bots, you may wonder.

Twitter published new restrictions for the use of its Developer API back in March, including revised limits on bot use and new methods for detecting bot accounts.

As explained by Twitter:

“Not all bots are bad. In fact, high-quality bots can enhance everyone’s experience on Twitter. Our new policy asks that developers clearly indicate (in their account bio or profile) if they are operating a bot account, what the account is, and who the person behind it is, so it’s easier for everyone on Twitter to know what’s a bot – and what’s not.”

Technically, Twitter should already have a list of authorized bot accounts that are utilizing its API – but, of course, not all developers would have made this change, and those seeking to employ bots for illegitimate or malicious purposes would not follow the same standards as everyone else.

In addition to giving Twitter more leverage to enforce these regulations, the company is also working to improve its bot detection processes. As a result, it hopes to see an increase in the number of bot accounts that use the new labels, or they will be banned from the platform entirely if they do not comply with these requirements.

It’s a fantastic upgrade that could aid in the improvement of Twitter’s bot-fighting efforts – which may have a significant effect when you consider the many ways in which bot accounts have been used to magnify particular themes and movements on the site.

In the wake of the 2016 US Election, for example, researchers uncovered several “huge, inter-connected Twitter bot networks” which they determined had sought to influence political discussion, with the largest cluster within the group incorporating some 500,000 bot accounts. In 2019, Wired reported that bot profiles were contributing up to 60% of tweet activity around some trending events, while in early 2020, a network of Twitter bots was found to be spreading misinformation about the Australian bushfire crisis, seeking to amplify anti-climate change conspiracy theories in opposition to established facts.

You would assume that users would be able to pick these bot tweets out, but they’re often fairly innocuous, with the only real indicator being that the exact same message is being shared by many accounts at once, seeking to amplify that angle or story.

Twitter bot tweets

Because the majority of users are unlikely to be following many of these accounts, this technique may easily be ignored. However, when this becomes a hot topic, the sheer number of mentions can have an impact on user opinion on the subject matter at hand.

In recognition of this, Twitter is trying to improve its strategy for combating bot brigading and reducing its negative effects on the platform.

Bot account labeling may be a critical step in this process, which will ideally assist to enhance tweet engagement while also removing bad, artificial effects from the conversation.

As of right now, Twitter claims the bot labels are only being applied to a limited number of accounts who have opted into the first test, with more accounts being added in the near future.