How To ID A Twitter Bot Account? It’s All In The Timing, Study Says

twitter-logo-2012-newRegardless of the content of tweets, it’s the timing of those tweets that can help distinguish bots on Twitter from actual individual and corporate accounts.

Aldo Faisal and Gabriela Tavares, two researchers from Imperial College London, studied more than 160,000 tweets from personal Twitter accounts, company (“managed”) accounts and accounts controlled by bots (found by using online lists of Twitter bots). Their research was published last week. An excerpt from the summary:

Periods of high or low Twitter activity and the time between successive tweets could distinguish the three kinds of accounts from one another with approximately 83% accuracy.

The study found that personal accounts are most active in the afternoons and evenings (based on local time of the accounts studied), and — not surprisingly — corporate accounts are most active during business hours. The tweet distribution for bot accounts, however, “exhibits a variety of peaks, which is probably because their behaviour is not associated with a structured daily routine.” That’s shown in the chart below, which shows tweet activity throughout a 24-hour period.

twitter account comparison

No doubt the spam team at Twitter looks at timing in its anti-bot efforts, so this isn’t likely to be surprising to anyone at Twitter HQ.

And I should mention, too, that not all Twitter bot accounts are spam. There are countless automated accounts that push out things like news headlines, weather updates, sports scores and more.

Related Topics: Channel: Social Media Marketing | Social Media Marketing: Spam | Top News | Twitter | Twitter: Accounts & Profiles


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Marketing Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • Jon Henshaw

    Somewhere out there on the intersplief, this very second, there’s a spammer tweaking their bot posting algo to Personal or Managed.

  • Harry Hawk

    I according to this, I Tweet personally more like a robot and a company.. than a person. I don’t dispute the analysis but I don’t think it’s correct for short periods of time, but likely to be more correct over longer periods (e.g., I sleep but robots don’t).

  • Michael Martinez

    The problem with studies like this is that anyone can automate tweets through an account and still use it for personal activity.

  • Matt McGee

    :-) Well, it said with 83 percent accuracy, right? So you can tell everyone that you’re the 17 percent!

  • Thomas Smith

    I don’t think we’ll ever be able to completely combat the use of bots in social media, but I do think that the activity times of bots is very predictable at the moment (hence the 83% accuracy in the data above). This is, undoubtedly, a very informative piece of writing nonetheless!

  • Pat Grady

    I’ve talked to enough heavy tweeters to know that a Turing test won’t work. Haha!

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