This follows Musk’s apparent revealing of confidential information (that Twitter randomly selects 100 accounts to survey for bots) and putting his controversial $44-billion takeover “temporarily on hold” over whether the 5% fake accounts statistic is accurate. Musk has since tweeted that he thinks it is more like 20%.
Agrawal’s response, he tweeted, would be done “with the benefit of data, facts, and context”. He then wrote: “Spam harms the experience for real people on Twitter, and therefore can harm our business. As such, we are strongly incentivized to detect and remove as much spam as we possibly can, every single day. Anyone who suggests otherwise is just wrong.”
Twitter suspends over half a million spam accounts every day, he added, “usually before any of you even see them on Twitter. We also lock millions of accounts each week that we suspect may be spam – if they can’t pass human verification challenges (captchas, phone verification, etc).”
Admitting to not being “perfect at catching spam”, he said each quarter Twitter has “estimated that <5% of reported mDAU for the quarter are spam accounts”. This refers to monetisable daily active users.
He outlined how Twitter determines if an account is real, saying: “FirstnameBunchOfNumbers with no profile pic and odd tweets might seem like a bot or spam to you, but behind the scenes we often see multiple indicators that it’s a real person.”
Personally, I find that hard to believe. I get followed by FirstnameBunchOfNumbers Twitter accounts whenever I write about ANC politicians. I can write horrible but true things about Facebook or Google and … nothing. Mention Gwede Mantashe and, hello, FirstnameBunchOfNumbers.
Agrawal’s final argument is: “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).”
How does Musk respond? Poop emoji (💩).
Musk is behaving increasingly like an ill-tempered billionaire brat. This is the world’s wealthiest person, who has already broken an agreement not to disparage Twitter executives, responding to a thoughtful, data-rich thread from the CEO of the company he wants to buy with a poop emoji.
It betrays a lack of decorum and a petulance that once saw Musk call a Thailand rescue cave diver “pedo guy” when he labelled Musk’s outlandish minisubmarine a publicity stunt.
This is the man who would be king of the “digital town square”, as he calls Twitter. It doesn’t bode well.
Perhaps I am old-fashioned in my belief that leaders should be like Nelson Mandela or Barack Obama and most recently Vlodymyr Zelensky: inspirational leaders you look up to and admire for their honour or morality or bravery.
Musk can say he is investigating the percentage of fake accounts, but it is hard to get away from the idea he is trying to negotiate a cheaper price. After all, tech stocks are about 20% down and Twitter’s valuation a month after the takeover bid emerged has taken a hammering like other big names.
In a video interview, Musk explains his objections more articulately. He says Twitter has “been vociferously less than 5% fake or spam accounts but, in fact, it is four to five times that number. It’s big deal. It’s like, I agree to buy your house, you say the house has less than 5% termites. That’s an acceptable number. But if it turns out it’s 90% termites, that’s not okay. It’s not the same house.” Obviously, @elonmusk replied “exactly”. Where was this more cogent reply to Agrawal? DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.