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Reports: Twitter Purges Fake Accounts and Watches its Stock Plunge
Twitter has undertaken its most aggressive purge of “fake and suspicious accounts,” which includes suspending more than 1 million a day over the past several months, according to a Washington Post investigation into the platform’s data that was later confirmed by an unnamed source.
However, Twitter’s efforts to clean its platform of the controversial fake accounts has left investors concerned that the company will see a sharp decline in user growth. Twitter’s shares plunged as much as 9.7 percent on Monday – the first day of trading since the Post‘s story appeared on Friday evening – according to CNBC.
Both Twitter and Facebook have come under congressional scrutiny for the role that fake accounts from Russia played in influencing the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential. The company’s “aggressive removal of unwanted accounts may result in a rare decline in the number of monthly users in the second quarter, which ended June 30,” according to a source who spoke to the Post.
The extent of account suspensions, which has not previously been reported, is one of several recent moves by Twitter to limit the influence of people it says are abusing its platform. The changes, which were the subject of internal debate, reflect a philosophical shift for Twitter. Its executives long resisted policing misbehavior more aggressively, for a time even referring to themselves as “the free speech wing of the free speech party.”
Recognizing that the Post‘s report was making investors uneasy, Twitter’s Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal sent out a couple of tweets on Monday to try and clarify that “most accounts we remove are not included in our reported metrics,” as CNBC reports. The tweets helped pare back some of its losses.
If we removed 70M accounts from our reported metrics, you would hear directly from us. This article reflects us getting better at improving the health of the service. Look forward to talking more on our earnings call July 27!
— Ned Segal (@nedsegal) July 9, 2018
But the Post notes that “Twitter’s increased suspensions also throw into question its estimate that fewer than 5 percent of its active users are fake or involved in spam, and that fewer than 8.5 percent use automation tools that characterize the accounts as bots.”
Critics have long admonished Twitter for not acting sooner to eliminate the fake accounts, but one of the reasons the company has been slow to act is because of an ongoing internal debate about whether it should even act at all, according to the Post.
Some executives initially were reluctant to act aggressively against suspected fake accounts and raised questions about the legality of doing so, said the people familiar with internal company debates. In November, one frustrated engineer sought to illustrate the severity of the problem by buying thousands of fake followers for a Twitter manager, said two people familiar with the episode. Bots can be readily purchased on a gray market of websites.
Twitter had 336 million active users at the end of the first quarter. Photo: YouTube/New York Times