Are only robots operating on Twitter?


During the first half of November, the NATO Strategic Communication Centre completed an analysis that measured Russian language coverage of NATO issues in relation to the Baltic Nations and Poland on Twitter. As a result, they found that 80% of Russian language posts, where both NATO and Estonia were mentioned, were made by bots or automated accounts.

Looking at it superficially, the results give the impression that all of Twitter’s content is being made by robots. We are trying to clarify the situation and see what role this communication network plays in the world and in Estonia.

Twitter worldwide
There 328 million active users on Twitter globally, this number is representative of being on the edge of the top 10% of worldwide social networks. For example Facebook, You tube, WhatsApp, Instagram all are forwarded to Twitter. It is hard to distinguish which country has Twitter as its most popular social media, according to some statistics it is South Korea. In European countries, Twitter is generally in the third or fourth spot.

The reasons why Twitter, with its relatively small user base has such a global role is due to its user profiles. Twitter is largely an opinion leader’s environment, where journalists, public figures and other noteworthy members of the community share issues. The topics discussed move on to more widely distributed channels and consequently get more attention than this environment with its limited membership would have allowed. For example, look at Bloomberg studies that compares topics covered by both Facebook and Twitter.

In the world, about 15% or 48 million of Twitter accounts are false accounts. This percentage is much higher than on Facebook.  One of the reasons for the many false accounts and bots on Twitter is the wide range of opportunities on Twitter to automate their operations – read about it on this posting here.

Twitter in Russia
According to Statcounter, Twitter is fourth in the social media landscape of our eastern neighbour, with Vkontakte and Facebook being the most popular.

However, Twitter accounts in Russia, as of May 2016 stand at 9 million users, a significant number. According to the analysis of the NATO Strat Com Centre, in addition to ordinary users, Russia has a user group consisting of media outlets and troll farms, all of which that focus on Kremlin ideology. Through such accounts the lion’s share of „relevant“ topics such as NATO are spread. In such cases the Russian language Twitter information is corrupted into propaganda, which has little to do with people’s actual opinions

Twitter in Estonia
The most popular social media channel in Estonia is overwhelmingly Facebook, compared to the Twitter users numbering 150,000 users, which is five to ten times less.

You can see in local usage of Twitter a parallel to global usage. Small amounts of opinion leaders share their message. A fairly small yet noteworthy group, who in turn distributes these messages to other channels, where there is a much larger attention group, follows them. In August 2017, put together their gathered information on the most tractable people in Estonia based on the environment of One of the most popular Estonians is travel blogger, Helena-Reet Ennet with 1.3 million followers, for example, Genka has more than 60 thousand and Toomas Hendrik Ilves has more than 90 thousand followers.

How many of these followers are robots? says this varies from 4% to 49%. Sten Tamkivi, whose followers are according to the audit centre, mostly bots, has gathered an army of such artificial followers apparently thanks to his prominent position as an IT contributor around the world; various interest groups pursue his thoughts. Language barriers protect Estonian twitter from false information. Foreign language bots do not get into local language spaces, original Estonian language material is not supported by hostile troll farms.

In conclusion, although it is easy for machinery to electronically use Twitter, you cannot conclude that only robots are using this medium. Rather it would be worthwhile for Estonia to contribute more to Twitter for the sake of increasing its influence in the world, why not by the use of automated means.


Robot photo: flickadoi / Flickr / CC. Graphic: Propastop