What are Twitter bots?

If you’ve spent much time on Twitter, you’ve probably received a response to one of your tweets from someone (a) you don’t know with (b) an odd, consonant-and-number-laden username. What gives? How did someone you’ve never met (in real life or otherwise) catch your tweet and reply to it that quickly? The answer is it’s not someone, but something–you’ve encountered a Twitter bot.

Twitter bots, as noted in this piece by Ryan Singel from Wired, are computer programs that watch each and every public tweet on Twitter for popular keywords (Singel suggests getting lots of automatic “feedback” on tweets about Charlie Sheen, for example). When a bot finds a tweet with those keywords, it either sends a pre-written response that may sort of look like it came from someone who legitimately read your tweet and has a directly related comment to it, or it follows your Twitter account. Essentially, Twitter has become the latest line of attack for spammers to annoy us electronically.

Can Twitter bots harm you? Not if you ignore or block them, as the author notes. Don’t click any links you receive from bots, and don’t follow them back unless you want to be overridden with spam.

Not all Twitter bots are inherently bad, though–there are several bots that @timer and Remember the Milk. Others provide a little comic relief for fans of the likes of Seinfeld and Zoolander (use one of those terms in a tweet sometime to see).

Source: Burning Question: Why Am I Being Followed by Twitter Robots? from Wired.com

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Aaron Sumner

Aaron Sumner is the Director of Technology for Research and Development at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has worked in web development and instructional technology since 1994.