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Just how many Twitter accounts are spam?

Elon Musk said the Twitter deal ‘cannot move forward’ until CEO Parag Agrawal shows proof of the 5pc spam account estimate.

Last week, Elon Musk said he was putting his takeover of Twitter “temporarily on hold” because he wants to see how the company calculates the number of spam accounts on its platform. And now, one estimate has found that estimate to be nearly a fifth of all daily active users.

Audience research tool for websites SparkToro conducted an analysis over the weekend, in collaboration with Twitter analysis tool Followerwonk, to conclude that an estimated 19.42pc of all active Twitter accounts are fake or spam.

Future Human

SparkToro CEO and co-founder Rand Fishkin wrote in a blog on Sunday (15 May) that the analysis was based on 44,058 active public accounts and that the resultant spam account estimate was conservative, likely undercounting the actual figure.

Twitter’s response

This figure is four times as high as Twitter’s own estimate of less than 5pc of monetizable daily active users (mDAU) being spam, revealed in its quarterly earnings call, and most recently in a tweet from Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal yesterday.

In a long twitter thread Explaining how the company deals with spam and bots, Agrawal said more than half a million spam accounts are suspended on the platform every day, locking millions of accounts each week “that we suspect may be spam” and not real humans.

He added that the “hard challenge” is that there are accounts which look like spam but are actually real accounts, while some of the most “dangerous” spam accounts look very real.

“Our team updates our systems and rules constantly to remove as much spam as possible, without inadvertently suspending real people or adding unnecessary friction for real people when they use Twitter: none of us want to solve a captcha every time we use Twitter.”

Agrawal also noted, possibly in response to the SparkToro estimate, that Twitter is able to provide more accurate estimates of spam accounts because it has access to internal and private data that cannot be shared externally.

“We don’t believe that this specific estimation can be performed externally, given the critical need to use both public and private information (which we can’t share). Externally, it’s not even possible to know which accounts are counted as mDAUs on any given day.”

“We shared an overview of the estimation process with Elon a week ago and look forward to continuing the conversation with him, and all of you.”

Musk’s ‘crappy’ response

However, Musk wasn’t convinced. Responding to Agrawal’s tweet suggesting internal data is crucial to a realistic estimate, Musk posted a smiling faeces emoji.

Later, he asked in the same thread: “So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter.”

SparkToro’s Fishkin, who took to Twitter again after Agrawal’s thread, said he agreed that Twitter mDAUs is “a black box measurement” making it hard for external accuracy, but added that he still had unanswered questions.

“If Twitter successfully IDs 95pc of the millions of spam accounts in analyses like ours, why leave them active on the platform? He says they remove 500k/day. Why are all these obvious spam accounts still here for us to catch?”

At a conference in Miami yesterday, Musk said in light of the latest spam account estimation quagmire, that a lower price for his takeover of the social media platform was “not out of the question”, according to the New York Times.

And today, Musk said in a tweet that even the 20pc estimate “could be much higher”.

“My offer was based on Twitter’s SEC filings being accurate. Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of <5pc. This deal cannot move forward until he does."

Meanwhile, Tim O’Brien, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, remarked in a tweet quoting Musk’s tweet casting doubt over Twitter’s estimates: “’Translation: “I’d like to get out of this deal before Tesla shares crater any further.’”

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