Twitter/Elon Musk: fake accounts are old news

Elon Musk is right to question the legitimacy of Twitter’s user count but he is woefully late to the debate. It does not require lengthy due diligence to wonder whether bots really make up less than 5 per cent of the social media company’s 229mn daily users.

There are two reasons to query Twitter’s claim. First, the 5 per cent figure never changes. Second, it is the same figure used by Facebook.

Recurrent numbers are suspicious. Even when Twitter switched from counting monthly active users to monetisable daily active users in 2019 it maintained an estimate that less than 5 per cent of accounts were fake. No matter how many users it adds or closes, that 5 per cent figure remains the same.

Bots are software programs designed to do specific tasks. An astonishing 40 per cent of all website traffic is made up of bots, according to estimates from cyber security company Imperva. On social media, good bots might consist of breaking news alerts. Bad ones can be used to harass users, scrape personal information and spread misinformation.

A higher fake account number would hammer user growth, one of the most important metrics in social media companies. When Meta announced its first drop in daily users this year the share price fell 25 per cent.

It would also raise average revenue per user. Divide Twitter’s $1.2bn revenue in the first quarter by its 229mn mDAU figure and each user is worth $5.24. Musk has suggested that 20 per cent of Twitter users could be bots. That would make the average revenue per real user $6.56. Digital advertisers would likely push back at paying over a dollar more per account.

Musk will struggle to find a definitive bot number. Accounts mimic real user behaviour and creators cycle through IP addresses and anonymous proxy servers. He will have trouble using this issue to renegotiate his $44bn bid for Twitter too. The company has always been clear that estimates are challenging. Fake accounts are a real problem but they are not a new one.

Source: Financial Times