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How many Twitter bots are there? The world may never know

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Love them or hate them, Twitter bots are very, very real. Sometimes you look at your Direct Messages and curse the world that another bot has left you a spam message. Other times, your face lights up when you see the gibberish that @Horse_ebooks tweets out in your feed.

But just how many Twitter bots are there? That was the question on everyone's minds when Twitter made a recent filing to the SEC. It turns out the answer is a lot harder to come up with than you think.

Here's what we do know. Twitter's second-quarter results released at the end of July revealed that to be an active user on the social network, you don't necessarily have to be human. Active users include Twitter accounts for brands and non-humans, such as the one for Pharrell's hat, as well as those accounts that access Twitter using its API. Twitter reported that 14 percent of its monthly active users use Twitter through the API.

In this recent SEC filing, Twitter clarified that percentage of its API usage and updated the number to 11 percent. However, Twitter also may have revealed how many of its active users are bots in the filing, which reported that "up to approximately 8.5% of all active users used third party applications that may have automatically contacted our servers for regular updates without any discernable additional user-initiated action," the filing said.

Taking that percentage into account, Quartz reported that 23 million of Twitter's 271 million monthly active users are automated, which includes accounts that automatically request data from Twitter but that may not tweet themselves, such as accounts that request information from Twitter to show tweets in software not owned by the company.

Quartz at first stated the findings indicated at least 23 million accounts were automatically tweeting, too. However, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that this number only shows how many people pull data from Twitter, not those who post to the social networking site without a human behind it as well. So our society is safe from automatons taking over all matters of our daily lives. For now.

Still, this is a concern for the company, which went public in November. Those 23 million automated active users are not seeing the ads that make up 90 percent of Twitter's revenue, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The challenge going forward is growing the number of active users who will actually see ads and possibly keeping the unknown amount of bots at bay.

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