Behind the fake account issue cited by Elon Musk calling the Twitter deal ‘pending’

Elon Musk tweets his plan on Twitter company

The acquisition was suspended, highlighting questions about fake accounts, which have plagued social media platforms for years.

Mr. Musk, CEO of Tesla company ,

He said in a tweet early Friday that his $44 billion deal to buy Twitter was “temporarily on hold with pending account details that fake/fake accounts already account for less than 5% of users.”

Spam and fake accounts are an industry-wide challenge. They can harm the experience of legitimate users, who can see posts they don’t realize were created by computer programs or otherwise under false claims. Bot operators have used fake bot accounts to incite violence, spread false information, or deceptive attempt to influence political activity or achieve other illegitimate goals. And fake accounts can make it difficult for advertisers on social media platforms to judge what they’re getting for their money.

Twitter, whose disclosure of spam and fake accounts has been consistent for years, has outlined the actions it is taking to address the issue.


Amy Osborne/AFP/Getty Images

Twitter and the companies behind rival platforms like Facebook and YouTube have spent years trying to root it out. Companies have expanded their content moderation teams and used artificial intelligence, but many describe spam and fake accounts as a knockout problem because bad actors are constantly updating their methods.

Mr. Musk, in challenging Twitter accounts about spam and fake accounts, provided no evidence that the company’s disclosures on the matter were unreliable. In a tweet in which he said his Twitter deal is pending, Mr. Musk included an article referring to a recent regulatory filing from Twitter in which he asserted that such accounts represented less than 5% of monetized users per day in the first three months of the year. Mr. Musk later added that he remains committed to the acquisition.

The Twitter filing reiterated previous data, including that the figure is 5% based on a sample and that “the actual number of false accounts or spam could be higher than we expected.” The company, which had about 229 million daily active users in total as of March 31, did not say how active the fake accounts are.

late on friday, mr. Musk tweeted again, saying he would try to verify the number and urging others to do the same: “To find out the answer, my team will randomly sample 100 Twitter followers. I invite others to repeat the same process and see what they discover.”

Mr. Then, in response to questions, Musk provided ideas for how to move forward, tweeting: “If we collectively try to figure out what percentage of bot/duplicate users, we can probably get a good answer.”

Mr. Asked on Twitter whether he had thought about this issue before Musk committed to the $44 billion purchase, Musk said: “I relied on the accuracy of Twitter’s public filings.”

Twitter’s disclosures about the share of spam and fake accounts have been consistent for years, and the company has outlined the actions it is taking to address the issue. In its latest Transparency Report, a report on user data and other statistics released by several major social media companies on a regular basis, Twitter said user reports of spam rose nearly 10% to 5.1 million in the first half of 2021 compared to By the second. Half of 2020. Users said they submitted 29.8 million annoying reports Between January 2018 and June 2021.

Twitter has not disclosed details about the impact of spam and fake accounts on its platform. “They can only be tweeting once a day or a hundred times,” said Joseph Syring, a researcher at Stanford University who studies content modification.

Mr. Musk’s comments added to speculation that he might try to negotiate a lower selling price or walk away from the deal. In the midst of the broader market downturn, Twitter’s stock is now trading below the level it was at when it made its unsolicited offer to the company last month. It is not possible to determine the role, if any, of his tweet early Friday or why he is now raising the issue of the fake accounts in connection with the transaction.

Mr. Musk previously cited fake accounts and spam as a concern. As part of his attempt to buy the platform, he tweeted that these accounts are hurting user trust.

write to Sarah E. Needleman at

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