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How Musk’s Twitter Deal Foundered Over ‘Spam Bots’

People check mobile devices whilst standing in front of Twitter Inc.'s logo.

People check mobile devices whilst standing in front of Twitter Inc.'s logo.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg 

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The most talked-about corporate takeover of recent times -- Elon Musk’s pursuit of Twitter Inc. -- has collapsed in a dispute over the role played by automated social media accounts in driving traffic on the platform. So-called spam bots frustrate users, threaten their security and make it harder for advertisers to see how many real humans are engaging with the microblogging service. Musk pulled out of the deal after accusing the company of misleading the public about the number of spam bots hiding among Twitter’s genuine users. In response, Twitter management said it would take the billionaire to court to honor their $44 billion agreement. 

On Twitter, bots are automated accounts that can do the same things as real human beings: send out tweets, follow other users, and like and retweet postings by others. Spam bots use these abilities to engage in potentially deceptive, harmful or annoying activity. Spam bots programmed with a commercial motivation might tweet incessantly in an attempt to drive traffic to a website for a product or service. They can be used to spread falsehoods and promote political messages. In the 2016 presidential election, there were concerns that Russian bots helped influence the race in favor of the winner, Donald Trump. Spam bots can also disseminate links to fake giveaways and other financial scams. After announcing his plans to acquire Twitter, Musk said one of his priorities was cracking down on bots that promote scams involving cryptocurrencies