A new study from the University of Southern California and Indiana University indicates that Twitter is full of bots – as many as 47 million of them. So it is possible that the likes, retweets or follows that you get on your posts or profile are being done by bots.

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Not all bots are bad: Twitter

In 2014, Twitter itself estimated that 5% to 8.5% of its accounts were spam or false accounts. However, this new study by the two universities suggests that 9% to 15% of the accounts are actually automated accounts not run by humans. Based on Twitter’s 313 million active users, the number of bots could be between 28 million and 47 million.

In addition, the study says that 15% of bots may be very “conservative,” since bots have been developed to be smart enough to prevent bot detection software from identifying them.

In their report, the researchers wrote that social media makes it easy for accounts which are controlled by automated or hybrid approaches to create content and communicate with other accounts. Further, the researchers state that growing evidence suggests that an increasing number of social media content is generated by autonomous entities called social bots.

However the social network told CNBC that all bots are not bad, indicating that many bot accounts are “beneficial, like those that automatically alert people of natural disasters…or from customer service points of view.”

Highlighting Twitter’s struggle to grow its user base

Indiana University created a Twitter “bot detection framework” for the study to analyze accounts for hundreds of behaviors and features typically associated with bots. The data set came from users who speak English; hence, it does not include bots used for ISIS recruitment or Mexico’s “army of Twitter trolls,” notes vocative.

Not only does the new research imply that there are up to 47 million automated accounts on the micro-blogging platform, but it also proves that its user base is struggling to grow even more than experts estimate. This new study will also dent Twitter’s image at a time when social media platforms are getting criticized for helping spread fake news.

Moreover, this is not the first time that the social network has come under the spotlight due to automated accounts. Late last year, a study by the University of Southern California found that 19% of election-related tweets made during the period of the study were not from human users, but from bot accounts.

In pre-market trading today, Twitter shares were down slightly.