BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

The Israeli marketing security firm CHEQ says that at least 15% of Chinese Twitter accounts are likely to be bots.

CHEQ’s security platform identifies and filters out invalid traffic (such as bots) visiting the websites of its marketer customers. So it can see, and study, bots and other fake accounts that follow ads and organic links out of Twitter to its customers’ websites. Over the past month, it studied 879,000 such visits and detected what website the bots were coming from, as well as the country in which the bot account was created.

The analysis showed that 7.5% of all traffic to the client sites from Twitter was labeled invalid by CHEQ’s software. By “invalid” CHEQ means that the Twitter accounts that clicked on the ads were from botnets, or were crawlers, scrapers, or automation tools–and not legit Twitter users clicking on ads. (CHEQ, it’s worth pointing out, is led by former members of Israel’s elite intelligence Unit 8200, which is comparable to the National Security Agency in the U.S.)

CHEQ’s Global Head of Marketing, Daniel Avital, points out that total Twitter bot traffic could actually be significantly higher because the company captured only bot accounts that clicked on either Twitter ads or organic links within Twitter. (Twitter did not respond to a request for comment on CHEQ’s findings.)

The data, which appears to be consistent with prior reports of Chinese bot accounts, comes as Twitter prepares to go to court to force Elon Musk to follow through on his $44 billion commitment to buy the social media company. Musk has claimed that Twitter has hidden the extent to which bots plague the social network.

Back in May Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal tweeted that, by the company’s own count, bots comprise less than 5% of mDAUs (monetizable daily active users) on the platform. Agrawal hasn’t been secretive about the bot problem, but stressed that Twitter is hard at work on it. “We suspend over half a million spam accounts every day, usually before any of you even see them on Twitter,” he tweeted. “We also lock millions of accounts each week that we suspect may be spam–if they can’t pass human verification challenges (captchas, phone verification, etc).”

More recently Twitter’s former security lead Peiter “Mudge” Zatko told members of Congress that Twitter management lacks the motivation and the resources to fully investigate and understand the true number of bots on the platform.

When CHEQ earlier studied a full year of traffic (5.2 million site visits), it found in a May report that 29% of Chinese Twitter traffic was labeled invalid. Of all Twitter traffic globally, CHEQ labeled 11.7% invalid.

CHEQ’s Avital says no one outside Twitter has access to data on all Twitter users and their activities, so research on people and/or bots that click out of Twitter to go elsewhere may be the best way available to study invalid Twitter accounts.


Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan’s work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.