There you are, Tweeting away, getting likes and followers, thinking you’ve got this Twitter thing down. You’re a Twitter madman (or woman). You’re a 140-character monster. This is your thing. People like you and your tweets. You’ve found your digital social happy space.

What if I were to tell you that a lot of those likes and retweets aren’t real? What if you found out that as many as 48 million Twitter accounts are actually just programs called “bots”?

That’s exactly what a study conducted by Indiana University and The University of Southern California found last week.

“Increasing evidence suggests that a growing amount of social media content is generated by autonomous entities known as social bots,“ it says.

The study looked at more than 1,000 Twitter features, including friends, tweet content and sentiment, network patterns and activity time series. In the end, they determined that almost 48 million Twitter accounts - anywhere from 9 to 15 percent of all Twitter accounts - are bots.

So why should you care? Well, you probably shouldn’t care too much, unless you are Twitter or an investor in the company. Even so, it’s striking to see that what you may think is social networking validation is actually just a bot crawling for user data and then using that data to sell you products.

It’s also striking to see how far programmers have gotten when it comes to emulating human interaction online, and where it may go as people continue to flock to social networks to get their dose of humanity.