Elon Musk, who has put the multi-billion dollar deal with Twitter on hold, has now decided to take action against the bots or fake accounts of the microblogging site.
Musk on Friday tweeted that his $44-billion cash deal for Twitter Inc was “temporarily on hold” while he waits for the social media company to provide data on the proportion of its fake accounts.
This month, Twitter Inc estimated in a filing that false or spam accounts represented fewer than 5% of its monetizable daily active users during the first quarter. It did not specify how that figure accounted for the automated, parody, and pseudonymous profiles permitted on the platform.
After signing the $44 billion deal with Twitter, Musk had tweeted that one of his priorities would be to remove “spam bots” from the platform.
As a result, the billionaire has decided to hold the deal for now while he sought information about the number of phony Twitter accounts.
Musk on Friday tweeted, “Twitter deal temporarily on hold pending details supporting calculation that spam/fake accounts do indeed represent less than 5% of users”. He also added, “Still committed to the acquisition”.
He then asked his team to take a random sample of 100 followers on Twitter. “I invite others to repeat the same process and see what they discover…”.
A Twitter account ‘Tesla Owners Silicon Valley’ asked Musk how he will define ‘random’ and how will he select them.
To which Musk wrote, “Ignore first 1000 followers, then pick every 10th. I’m open to better ideas”.
Another user also asked Musk to elaborate on the process of segregating the spam accounts on Twitter. Twitter user Paranay Pathole asked Musk, “Elon, can you elaborate a bit on the “process”? So that we as Twitter can help you in finding out the real percentage of scam/spam/bot accounts”.
Musk replied, “Any sensible random sampling process is fine. If many people independently get similar results for % of fake/spam/duplicate accounts, that will be telling.
I picked 100 as the sample size number, because that is what Twitter uses to calculate <5% fake/spam/duplicate”.
Thereafter Musk in an amusing tone wrote, “The bots are angry at being counted”.
Researchers estimate that anywhere from 9% to 15% of the millions of Twitter profiles are automated accounts or bots. Cyabra estimates the percentage of inauthentic Twitter profiles at 13.7%.
Over the years, Twitter has invested in clearing out spam accounts. In 2018, Twitter acquired a company called Smyte, which specialized in spam prevention, safety and security. Twitter removed “spammy and suspicious accounts” in a effort to improve the health of the platform, which caused its user base to drop by 1 million in July 2018 and its stock to tumble.
Researcher Filippo Menczer from Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media said Twitter has gotten more aggressive at taking down these types of inauthentic accounts, though the nature of the threat is evolving and harder to quantify.
One Carnegie Mellon University study analyzing the spread of COVID-19 falsehoods in 2020 found that of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82% were bots.
Inside Twitter, the measurement and detection of false or spam accounts is a complex problem that is not well defined or understood by many of the company’s own employees, Reuters news agency wrote.