Twitter bots propel coronavirus reopening discussion: study

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Nearly half the Twitter user discussing coronavirus reopenings on the platform could be bots, a new study by the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science has found.

Researchers collected more than 200 million tweets about the virus starting in January and found that of the top 50 most influential retweeters, 82 percent were bots; of the top 1,000, 62 percent were bots.

Accounts that were possibly humans with bot assistants generated 66 percent of tweets discussing "reopening America," while 34 percent were definitely bots, the study found.

"We're seeing up to two times as much bot activity as we'd predicted based on previous natural disasters, crises and elections," Kathleen Carley, a professor in the School of Computer Science's Institute for Software Research, said in a statement.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
TWTR TWITTER INC. 32.62 +0.28 +0.87%

Researchers identified bot profiles using a combination of artificial intelligence and human processes based on a number of factors such as users who tweeted posts faster than humanly possible or users who appeared to be tweeting from two different countries at once.

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"When we see a whole bunch of tweets at the same time or back to back, it's like they're timed," Carley said. "We also look for use of the same exact hashtag, or messaging that appears to be copied and pasted from one bot to the next."

Atilis Gym co-owners Frank Trumbetti, center right, and Ian Smith, center, react after meeting with a police officer outside outside their gym in Bellmawr, N.J., Monday, May 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

She added that there has been a surge in bots over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic because many people have more time on their hands and more groups are recruiting firms to run bot accounts all over the world, the study notes.

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Because COVID-19 is a global issue, it is widely recognized as "an opportunity to meet political agendas," Carley said. Some of the bots appear to use tactics similar to Russian and Chinese bot accounts.

"We do know that it looks like it's a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that," Carley said.

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Users can identify bot accounts by closely examining profiles; a fake account might tweet posts that contain typos, use the same hashtag or tweet faster than humanly possible, as Carley noted.

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"Even if someone appears to be from your community, if you don't know them personally, take a closer look, and always go to authoritative or trusted sources for information," she said. "Just be very vigilant."

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Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions Slams Trump And His ‘Anger’ On Twitter

Former attorney general and current GOP Senate candidate Jeff Sessions took an uncharacteristic swipe directly at President Donald Trump on Twitter late Friday.

Sessions fired off the bitter tweet after Trump blasted him yet again and urged voters not to “trust” Sessions in his race for Senate because he “let our country down.” Trump repeated his endorsement in a tweet for Sessions’ rival, former college football coach Tommy Tuberville, in the upcoming primary contest for the Alabama seat that Sessions held before becoming Trump’s AG in 2017.

Trump has been nursing a grudge against Sessions almost from the start of his presidency since his then-attorney general recused himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election because of his own conversations with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The investigation was later headed by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“Look, I know your anger, but recusal was required by law,” Sessions wrote to Trump. “I did my duty & you’re damn fortunate I did.” He claimed his actions eventually led to Trump’s “exoneration.”

Sessions added: “Your personal feelings don’t dictate who Alabama picks as their senator, the people of Alabama do.”

Twitter critics slammed both Trump and Sessions, and denied the former AG’s claim that his ex-boss was exonerated by Mueller in the Russia probe. (Mueller made clear to Congress that his final report did not, in fact, exonerate Trump.)

But conservative lawyer George Conway, who is married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, welcomed Sessions to the “resistance.”

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Twitter Earnings: What to Look For

Key Takeaways

  • Analysts expect adjusted EPS of $0.09 vs. $0.37 in Q1 2019.
  • Monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) are expected to rise.
  • COVID-19 expected to hurt sales and earnings.

Social-media company Twitter Inc. (TWTR), which has struggled with falling profits in recent quarters, faces drastic earning declines ahead as the coronavirus pandemic shrinks the global economy. While Twitter's traffic may rise as millions of people stay home amid government lockdowns, the economy is likely to force marketers to cut ad spending, the primary source of the company's revenue. Investors will be looking for signs of the initial impact of the downturn on Twitter's business when the company reports earnings on April 30, 2020 for Q1 2020.  Analysts expect adjusted earnings per share (EPS) to plunge on a modest drop in revenue.

Investors are likely to focus closely on a key Twitter metric in the Q1 report, which is monetizable daily active users, or mDAUs. The metric measures the number of users accessing Twitter platforms that show ads. Analysts expect this metric to rise.

Twitter management has indicated the company's financial outlook is highly uncertain. It already has withdrawn its previously issued forward guidance for the quarter. Twitter said it expects falling revenue and a GAAP operating loss. However, the company also said that the rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic makes it hard to predict results accurately, according to a statement released in late March.

Those dim forecasts didn't help the company's stock, which was already underperforming before being hammered along with the rest of the market as fears over the spread of COVID-19 mounted. The stock has recovered somewhat, but is still lagging the broader market with a total return of -17.3% over the past 12 months compared to the S&P 500's total return of -3.7%.

Shares of Twitter rose immediately after the company posted Q4 2019 results that showed revenue grew 10.8% year over year (YOY) to a record high that surpassed $1 billion for the first time. However, adjusted EPS fell far below analysts' estimates and was 21.2% lower than the same quarter a year ago, marking the second consecutive quarter of declines. 

Twitter also posted a 17.5% decline in adjusted EPS for Q3 2019, which was the first decline since Q2 2017. Revenue rose just 8.7%, the slowest pace since Q4 2017. The company noted that software glitches related to some of its advertising tools contributed to "greater-than-expected seasonality" in its ad business. The stock plummeted more than 20% following the report.

The company's performance may worsen with the slumping economy. Analysts expect adjusted EPS for Q1 2020 to decline a dramatic 76.1% compared to the same quarter a year ago. Revenue is forecast to fall 1.2%, marking the first sales decline since Q3 2017. For all of 2020, analysts estimate adjusted EPS will plunge 80.1% as revenue drops 3.6%, the worst revenue growth number in at least 6 years.

Twitter Key Metrics
  Estimate for Q1 2020 (FY) Actual for Q1 2019 (FY) Actual for Q1 2018 (FY)
Adjusted Earnings Per Share ($) 0.09 0.37 0.16
Revenue ($M) 777.8 786.9 664.9
Monetizable Daily Active Users (M) 163.0 134.0 120.0

Source: Visible Alpha

The one bit of good news may be that analysts expect rising mDAUs, a metric that tracks the number of users that log in and access Twitter through the company's main website or its applications that display ads. Average mDAU is calculated by summing the total mDAUs for each day of the given period and then dividing that sum by the number of days in that period. It's a metric that potential advertisers can use to gauge user engagement with Twitter's platforms.

The mDAU metric was introduced to replace the previously-used monthly-active-users (MAUs) gauge, which Twitter discontinued after Q1 2019. Twitter says that reporting a monetizable-daily metric will more accurately reflect user engagement for advertisers. But the decision to switch may have been partly motivated by the fact that the company was experiencing consistent declines in average MAUs.  

Twitter reported average mDAU of 152.0 million in Q4 2019 for a YOY rise of 20.6%. That is the fastest pace of growth in at least 15 quarters and analysts are even expecting an uptick in that pace for Q1. The current forecast is for Twitter to post average mDAU of 163.0 million for growth of 21.6% compared to the same quarter a year ago. Increased Internet traffic is likely to further boost that number.

To be sure, it's unclear whether this robust growth of mDAU will have any positive impact on Twitter's numbers in the short term. Even though the metric rose sharply in recent quarters, Twitter's adjusted earnings fell. The same pattern is expected for Q1 FY 2020. Twitter's big challenge is that its revenue and earnings depend heavily on advertising. As result, its earnings may continue to worsen if ad spending plunges, even as the number of Twitter users rises.

Article Sources

  1. Bloomberg. "Internet Traffic is Surging But The Pipes Aren’t Bursting Yet," Accessed Apr. 22, 2020.

  2. Twitter Inc. "Twitter First Quarter Earnings Conference Call," Accessed Apr. 30, 2020.

  3. Twitter Inc. "Twitter Withdraws Q1 Guidance Due to COVID-19 Impact," Page 1. Accessed Apr. 22, 2020.

  4. Twitter Inc. "Twitter Announces Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2019 Results," Page 1. Accessed Apr. 22, 2020.

  5. Visible Alpha

  6. Yahoo! Finance. "Twitter, Inc. (TWTR) Analysis," Accessed Apr. 22, 2020.

  7. Twitter Inc. "Form 10-Q for the quarterly period ended September 30, 2019," Page 33. Accessed Apr. 22, 2020.

  8. Yahoo! Finance. "Twitter, Inc. (TWTR) Chart," Accessed Apr. 22, 2020.

  9. Twitter Inc. "Twitter Announces Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2019 Results," Page 3. Accessed Apr. 22, 2020.

  10. Twitter Inc. "Twitter Announces First Quarter 2019 Results," Page 2. Accessed Apr. 23, 2020.

  11. Twitter Inc. "Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2018," Page 51. Accessed Apr. 22, 2020.

  12. Twitter Inc. "Q4 and Fiscal Year 2018 Letter to Shareholders," Pages 6 & 7. Accessed Apr. 22, 2020.

  13. The Verge. "Twitter keeps losing monthly users, so it’s going to stop sharing how many," Accessed April 23, 2020.

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Alleged Stock-Dumping GOP Senator’s Coronavirus PSA Does Not Go Down Well

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) — who allegedly sold stocks ahead of the coronavirus crisis after attending closed-door congressional briefings about its looming threat — encouraged people to stay strong in a video released online Wednesday.

Loeffler talked about the “great moments that remind us we’re all humans in this together, working hard to keep each other safe, strong and healthy” in the 36-second clip.

The PSA was not well received, however.

Check out the video here:

Loeffler reportedly sold upwards of $1 million worth of stocks that she held with her husband before markets crashed in response to the pandemic, protecting her from the kinds of losses many Americans have suffered in their retirement savings. 

Critics slammed Loeffler for failing to warn the public of the scale of the threats posed by the virus, and reminded her that she initially downplayed the danger. The U.S. is now the epicenter of the pandemic.

Loeffler has defended the transactions, however, tweeting that the investment decisions for her portfolio “are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement.” 

“These were completely discretionary trades at the decision of our investment managers,” Loeffler said during a CNBC interview on Friday. “We had no involvement in them, and in fact, I don’t find out about these trades until these reports are compiled at the end of the reporting period.”

Loeffler’s detractors weren’t buying it:

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