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Quick Note: Twitter, Bots and Data Torture

June 23, 2012

Today’s Note asks what you can prove if you try hard enough. Dr. Andrea Di Maio, of Gartner, published a blog post titled “Torturing the Data Long Enough Will Make It Confess Anything” on the Gartner blog site.

The Gartner blog site was unknown to me before I followed a link to this article. It is well worth a look to see what you might be interested in. Like many of the posts, Di Maio’s post is brief but well composed. He takes to task some recent research on social media, and Twitter in particular. His article opens with this enticing paragraph:

Last week Reuters, Financial Times and the Huffington Post referenced a rather sensationalistic outcome published by an Italian entrepreneur and contract university professor who is well known in Italian social media circles. His research allegedly showed that “up to 46 percent of Twitter followers of companies with active profiles could be generated by robots, or bots”.

The idea that 46% of corporate Twitter account followers are not humans is fairly provocative. It would certainly turn on its ear the notion that social networks such as Twitter are capable of generating mass traffic worth of great revenues. But Di Maio found the research suspect, and his post explains why:

I guess it is quite obvious that most of these measures are rather arbitrary and debatable measures, and changing the scoring system would be both easy and plausible. For instance, are people who mostly lurk and do not write tweets any less human than those who are compulsive writers and retweeters? Does using a mobile device make somebody more human? Using twitter.com rather than the many tweeter applications for PC and mobile devices make somebody more human?

The blog post is worth a read, and won’t take long. Also interesting are the comments exchanged at the bottom of the post. Among the people commenting is the apparent author of the original research, and the exchanges about the post are very interesting. I hope you will enjoy it!

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