About two-thirds of tweeted links to popular websites are posted by bots, not actual humans, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.
For adult sites, that number rises to 90%, and for sharing sports content, about 76% of links are posted to Twitter by automated services, according to the study. News and current events sites get about two-thirds of their links from bots, Pew estimates.
“These findings illustrate the extent to which bots play a prominent and pervasive role in the social media environment,” said the Pew Research Center’s associate director of research, Aaron Smith, in a statement. “Automated accounts are far from a niche phenomenon: They share a significant portion of tweeted links to even the most prominent and mainstream publications and online outlets.
The study used the tool Botometer, developed by researchers at Indiana University and the University of Southern California, to determine which Twitter accounts were likely to be bots, looking at a list of about 2,300 popular sites and roughly 1.2 million tweets sharing links to them in a six-week period last summer. The study didn’t attempt to distinguish between benign or malicious bots in any way, measure the accuracy of the bot-shared content, or track to what extent real people actually engaged with those links. Bots are not banned from Twitter, and as Pew points out, some bots are run by mainstream media organizations like The New York Times and the Washington Post to share news.
According to the study, just 500 of the most-active suspected bots shared 22% of links to the news and current events sites tracked.