Twitter purchase will not go ahead without clarity on spam accounts

Twitter said it plans to treat the US election period as lasting until after the January inauguration, keeping in mind that the vote count is expected to take longer than usual due to the pandemic. — Photo: AFP

NEW YORK: Billionaire Elon Musk on Tuesday said his purchase of Twitter would not go ahead unless he was assured that fewer than five per cent of accounts on the platform were fake.

“Yesterday, Twitter’s CEO publicly refused to show proof of <5%.

“This deal cannot move forward until he does,” tweeted Musk, who has almost 94 million followers on the social network.

The chief of SpaceX as well as Tesla, Musk is currently listed by Forbes as the world’s wealthiest person, with a fortune of about $230 billion, much of it in Tesla stock.

Seen by his champions as an iconoclastic genius and by his critics as an erratic megalomaniac, Musk surprised many investors in April with news that he wanted to purchase Twitter.

But his $44 billion buy of Twitter remained temporarily on hold, pending questions over the social media company’s estimates of the number of fake accounts or bots.

Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal said the platform suspends more than a half-million seemingly bogus accounts daily, usually before they are even seen, and locks millions more weekly that fail checks to make sure they are controlled by humans and not by software.

Internal measures show that fewer than five per cent of accounts active on any given day at Twitter are spam, but that analysis can’t be replicated externally due to the need to keep user data private, Agrawal contended.

Musk, who has said bots plague Twitter and that he would make getting rid of them a priority if he owned the platform, responded to that tweet by Agrawal with a poo emoji.

“So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money?

“This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter,” Musk tweeted in a subsequent response about the need to prove Twitter users are real people.

The process used to estimate how many accounts are bots has been shared with Musk, Agrawal insisted.

“It appears the spam/bot issue is cascading and clearly making the Twitter deal a confusing one.

“The bot issue at the end of the day was known by the New York City cab driver and feels more to us like the ‘dog ate the homework’ excuse to bail on the Twitter deal or talk down a lower price,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note to investors.

Musk has described his motivation as stemming from a desire to ensure freedom of speech on the platform and to boost monetisation of a website that is massively influential but has struggled to attain profitable growth.

He also said he favoured lifting the ban on Donald Trump, who was kicked off the platform in January 2021 shortly after the former US president’s efforts to overturn his election defeat led to the January 6 assault on the US Capitol. – AFP

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