Elon Musk’s endless attempts to take over Twitter have taken another strange turn, as the social media platform seems to have complied with the entrepreneur’s request to access a “fire hose of” internal data that the company possesses.
Musk has for weeks pressured Twitter to provide data that would allow the South African entrepreneur to test whether a significant portion of the platform’s users are fake bot accounts – something he believes would be cheaper the price he would be willing to pay for the company . Musk claims that bot accounts make up more than 5 percent of Twitter’s user base – something even Musk’s critics believe this is true-and want the company to disprove it.
Twitter has reported a lower number of spurious accounts in its financial resultsand according to Washington Post, it is willing to give Musk access to every tweet sent daily, along with detailed user information, to enable him to look for fake behavior. (Informally, this data is called the “fire hose.” Twitter rejected WIRED’s request to confirm or deny Post report.) Twitter’s apparent willingness to give Musk access to the data stream comes days after the suitor’s lawyers sent a letter to the company, which said it was “actively resisting and thwarting [Musk’s] information rights, ”and threatens to withdraw from the agreement.
The reported shift to give Musk access to the data is significant, and it raises two key questions: One, will Musk get what he wants based on the data he has received? And two: What does it mean for the privacy and security of everyday users that he gets access?
For Axel Bruns, a professor at Queensland University of Technology, it’s about Twitter calling Musk’s bluff. “By giving him access to the fire hose, Twitter can probably say, ‘Prove your claims about the abundance of bots,'” he says. Bruns believes Musk and whoever he hires to track down bots would have a hard time. But even for a person with the necessary skills to handle that level of data, it is unlikely to be the right method to answer the question. It’s uncertain whether access to the 500 million tweets fire hose sent to the social media platform each day will actually help Musk answer the key question he claims is holding back his purchase of Twitter: The proportion of users , there are bots. “It seems a bit performative,” says Paddy Leerssen, a researcher in information law at the University of Amsterdam. “My feeling is that this data is not the data you need to find out who is a bot or not.”
Being able to pinpoint what makes a bot a bot has been a much-discussed topic in academia, a topic to which experts have devoted much of their working lives – which is why they are skeptical about access to all the tweets posted on Twitter will answer the bot question definitively enough to convince Musk to move forward with the purchase. “My impression is that people tend to overestimate how easy it is to detect bots,” says Leerssen. “A tool like this [the fire hose] will not allow you to do so unless you combine it with all sorts of other research methods. I do not think it’s something that Elon Musk would want time for on a timeline like this. “The man who could respond to how this data would help him identify bots, Musk himself, did not respond to an email request for comment.