Bots Share the Majority of Links on Twitter

Christian Bertrand/

Scrolling through Twitter and clicking on interesting links is a pastime for many. But where are all those links coming from? Probably not from an actual human, it turns out.

Pew Research Center released a report on Monday examining the level of bot activity on the social media website. Researchers discovered that about two-thirds of tweets containing links to the most popular websites were sent out by bots.

The study examined 1.2 million tweets sent from 140,545 accounts between July 27 and September 11, 2017. Researchers concluded 66 percent of tweeted links were made by bots, but not all bots are created equal. The 500 most active bot accounts created 22 percent of tweets with links. In comparison, the 500 most active human accounts were responsible for 6 percent of shared links.

But how do you determine what is a bot? Some bot accounts are intentionally designed to fool humans. Researchers relied on a tool called the Botometer. Developed by researchers at Indiana University and the University of Southern California, the tool uses various criteria, such as post frequency and its follower network, to determine whether an account is a bot.

Bot activity has come under scrutiny recently following the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, so the Pew Research Center also examined the political leanings of bot tweets. Bots accounted for 57 to 66 percent of links to political sites with centrist audiences. For conservative sites, bots accounted for 41 percent of links tweeted out. For sites with a liberal audience, 44 percent of links tweeted out were made by bots.

To learn more about the study, check out the video below from Pew Research Center.