Update (10th July 2018 4:00 pm): Twitter CFO Ned Segal has clarified that most accounts affected by its clean-up will not be included in its metrics. In a tweet, Segal explained that most of the suspended accounts were less than 30 days old or caught at sign up and therefore never counted. He added “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.” Therefore our original speculation that this could affect 20% of Twitter’s total user base stands corrected.
Original story follows (9th July 2018 3:00 pm):
Twitter has suspended over 70 million accounts in the past two months as part of its crackdown on suspicious activity and fake users on the platform. The development which was first reported by the Washington Post is part of Twitter’s aggressive effort to lessen the flow of disinformation on the social platform. In its earnings results for Q1 2018, Twitter had announced that it had 336 million monthly active users (MAUs), therefore the 70 million accounts that have been purged may represent up to 20% of Twitter’s userbase.
Twitter’s failure to curb the influence of accounts which are abusive or peddle fake information has primarily been the product of the company’s disinterest in policing content on the platform, but that may be changing. According to the WaPo report, the company’s Vice President for Trust and Safety Del Harvey has said the company is changing the calculus between promoting public discourse and preserving safety. She added that Twitter only recently was able to dedicate the resources and develop the technical capabilities to target malicious behaviour in this way.
Siladitya adds: Twitter’s inertia on the issue of handling bad behaviour on its platform (targetted abuse, fake news, rumours has been extremely frustrating to follow. While Facebook’s failures have grabbed all the headlines, Twitter has also allowed its platform to be weaponised for the spread of propaganda, fake news and targeted abuse. It is heartening to see that the company is attempting to target malicious accounts and has managed to suspend 70 million of them in the last two months. But there is no clarity on if this is a global effort. Russian bots are not the only bad actors on the platform and American voters are not the only victims. Twitter must highlight what it is doing in regions like African, South-East Asia and India among others where the platform is plagued with identical problems.
New authentication rules
Last month the social media giant had announced that users signing up for new accounts will now need to authenticate their accounts with either an email address or a phone number. The authentication process which has been a standard across multiple social platforms is finally made its way on to Twitter as a way to curb abusive or fake accounts at the point of creation.
In a blog post, Twitter said that new users will now have to confirm either an email address or phone number when they sign up for the platform. This change will be rolled out later this year, and the company says that its two-year-old Trust and Safety Council will also be working with NGOs to “ensure this change does not hurt someone in a high-risk environment where anonymity is important.”
Twitter had also said that it will start “auditing existing accounts for signs of automated sign up.” The social platform will then start limiting the reach of such accounts. Once its systems have flagged an automated account, Twitter will remove it from follower figures and engagement counts, put a warning on it and keep new accounts from following it until it has passed some sort of verification, such as providing a phone number.
Twitter vs automated accounts
In February, Twitter had said it would no longer allow users to post identical messages from multiple accounts, in a crackdown on tactics used by Russian bots and others malicious actors to make tweets or topics go viral. Developers are now banned from using any system that simultaneously posts “identical or substantially similar” tweets from multiple accounts at once, or makes actions like liking, retweeting, and following across multiple accounts at once.
At the NAMApolicy event on ‘Fake News’ in February, Twitter India’s Mahima Kaul said that the platform catches 3.2 million suspicious accounts every week and these accounts are not added to the Monthly Active Users (MAUs) stat by the company. In an effort nix suspicious accounts at the point of creation Kaul added that 450,000 suspicious logins are dealt with every day.
In December 2017, Twitter had released guidelines to implement changes in their policy to reduce hateful imagery, violent threats and groups inciting or glorifying brutality.
With inputs from Siladitya Ray