In 2021, NFTs suddenly went viral and have continued to gain traction since then. In many ways, the rise of NFTs has been nothing short of remarkable. Notably, NFTs promise an easy opportunity for creatives to earn money off their works. Over the past couple of months, one could say NFTs have delivered on this promise considerably. While there have been controversies on whether NFT investors may merely be investing in speculative hype-driven assets, creatives have been able to sell works ranging from digital art to music.
For most people, their first encounter with NFTs was through Twitter, which is not surprising. Twitter has recently become a preferred choice for online advertisements. The use of promoted tweets promoted accounts and promoted hashtags has become a strong tool for driving products, services, and in this case, digital innovations like NFTs. Twitter’s position as an advertisement big-wig has been reflected in its revenues. In 2020 alone, Twitter generated about $3.2 billion from its advertisement revenue. Taking these factors into consideration, it makes perfect sense that Twitter is yet again, the hotspot for the promotion of NFTs.
However, recently, it appears that the NFT industry has gradually shifted away from its status as a hub for creatives. Instead, the space is now dominated by people only seeking to make a quick profit by flipping. While the act of flipping NFTs in itself is not terrible, it has inspired intensive promotion techniques on Twitter that have made the NFT space super competitive. As a result, newcomers in the NFT space are now struggling to get seen, and it is the fault of Twitter bot farms.
What Are Twitter Bots and How Do They Manipulate Twitter Content?
In technical terms, a Twitter bot is a bot that uses the Twitter API to interact with Twitter users. Twitter bots are essentially automated Twitter accounts that owners can program to do many things. Bots can perform tasks ranging from liking and retweeting tweets to following other accounts. In most cases, these accounts pretend to be real people. Nevertheless, you can identify bots through certain distinctive features. Such features include:
- A recent creation date
- The release of tweets in quick succession
- A low number of followers
- A higher level of account activity than humanly possible
The last time you heard about Twitter bots, it was likely concerning Russia and election manipulation. However, Twitter bots have an even more extensive use than that and are likely to have more influence than you might have imagined. For instance, according to a research performed by the Pew Research Centre, 66% of all twitted links to popular websites are made by bots. Twitter bots are therefore instrumental for other purposes. For example, they can be used to artificially amplify messages as well as generate fake engagements for accounts.
Twitter Bot Farms Uses and Their Impact
Twitter bots are created using scripting. Once they are created, these bots can be programmed to generate content or engagement directed at a particular subject. It is the mass coordination of multiple bots that constitute bot farms. These farms have become a convenient and veritable tool for several underhanded strategies on Twitter. For instance, many influencers engage in the practice of purchasing followers en masse.
It is not unusual for Twitter bot accounts to constitute the bulk of these ‘bought’ followers. They are many ways which people go about acquiring such fake followers. For instance, Devumi, an obscure American company, was reported to have sold more than 200 million Twitter followers to people. There are countless other similar platforms where people buy bot followers and engagement.
These bot accounts, once created, can also be coordinated for various campaigns. Given the sheer number of bots that anyone can create, it is not surprising that many such campaigns easily become successful. The impact of these bot farms could be huge. For instance, a study by Duo Labs found a botnet of at least 15,000 fake accounts being used to amplify a cryptocurrency scam. Similarly, the study found that more than 7,000 accounts were used to artificially inflate content popularity.
This expansion of Twitter bots is not just a problem in terms of misinformation and political feuds. It also creates a difficult environment for new content creators who compete for visibility with people that leverage bot farms.
Twitter and the NFT Industry
Anyone familiar with the rise of NFTs knows that Twitter has been pivotal to their growth. Apart from the actual exchange of NFTs, so many other aspects of the space occur on Twitter. Many people see Twitter as the go-to platform to showcase their NFTs. From posting NFT art to organizing launch parties on Twitter spaces, there is no overstating Twitter’s impact on the space.
As we advance, it appears that the dependence of the NFT space on Twitter is only set to grow. For instance, Twitter has recently launched a feature that would let some people use NFTs as their profile pictures. This feature would allow its users to connect a crypto wallet and display any NFTs they own in a hexagon shape instead of a circle. With features like this and a closer partnership with OpenSea (the biggest NFT marketplace), one can see Twitter taking NFTs mainstream. However, Twitter’s dominance in the NFT space could also bring about a set of problems. And as you might have guessed, Twitter bots are one of such problems.
Impact of Twitter Bots in the NFT Space
Twitter bots, as mentioned earlier, make the competition for visibility unbearable for new content creators. People in the NFT space are also content creators, even though their content is not native to Twitter. Thus, the NFT space could be severely impacted by the use of Twitter bots. Given how quickly the NFT space has gained momentum on Twitter, many ‘NFT influencers’ have popped up. Some of these influencers have certainly taken to the use of bot farms to drive up engagement on their content.
Of course, the real victims are the newcomers in the NFT space and other small-scale creators. It is easy to imagine that these creators would stand no chance against people that have thousands of bogus accounts that like and retweet their content. So to get their voices heard and get people to see their collections, these creators are left with no choice but to pay influencers.
This kind of situation is dangerous in many ways. First, the NFT space would become less of a space for creatives to showcase and make money off their works. Instead, we will just have people with mediocre collections competing to gain the most visibility and earn a profit. It, essentially, makes NFTs more about marketing and ‘influencing’ than actual creation.
Detecting Bot-based NFT Influencing
There is a valid reason to believe that influencing Twitter bots might now be a thing in the NFT space. While one cannot directly tell what account utilizes bots, there are some signs to look out for:
- The rapid growth of followers
Influencers typically gain followers gradually over time. Thus, a red flag that an NFT influencer might be using bot farms is the rapid acquisition of followers. So many of these accounts were created in under five months and already have thousands of followers. Sometimes, the followers’ count gets as high as hundreds of thousands. Without any apparent reason for such growth, a likely conclusion is that such accounts purchase followers in bulk.
- High level of engagement in generic tweets
Another pointer of certain NFT influencers using bots is the unrealistic level of tweet engagement. You can easily detect foul play when generic marketing tweets pull amazing numbers in terms of likes and retweets. The generic comments pouring in is proof of the use of bots. You’d observe hundreds of bots making the same comments, or at times, with slight changes. Similarly, these tweets gain thousands of likes and retweets within a few hours.
- The footprint of apparent bot accounts
Once you go through the followers, likers, and retweeters of some suspicious influencer accounts, you can tell that many of these accounts are not real. Bots have distinctive qualities that make them easy to identify. They use alphanumeric usernames and were opened recently, yet they already have thousands of tweets and retweets. Tools like Botometer can also estimate the probability of accounts being bots. Of course, many accounts turned out to be likely bots. For instance, we observed a particular account opened in March 2022 and already had over 2000 tweets. Mind you, as at the writing of this article, we are only three days into March. Most of the 2000+ tweets were retweets of various NFT projects, likely in coordinated campaigns.
- Account Auditing
To detect Twitter bots, you can also opt for auditing the Twitter account. Some tools help you do this. An example is TwitterAudit, which samples up to 5000 followers of Twitter accounts and detects Twitter bots by analyzing factors like frequency of Tweets, number of Tweets, and account name. FollowerAudit also uses AI to detect bot Twitter followers. For example, we conducted an audit of a Twitter account with over 678,000 followers, and TwitterAudit detected about 26,000 bot followers on the same account.
It would appear that the NFT promotion game is already rigged against newcomers who are unwilling or cannot afford to pay exorbitant fees to have their content pushed. However, it is important for the future of NFTs that there is a level playing field. If the space continues to be driven by underhanded promotion tactics, actual content creators would inevitably get pushed out of the scene.