Twitter’s termite problem

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Our garden in London at the moment is infested with snails. Every spring they return and start devouring the dahlias’ young buds and countless other flowers still in their juvenescence.

It’s a constant job to keep defending against them and picking them out of the shrubbery and Twitter faces a similar task in tackling the fake and spam accounts that are always proliferating in its own public garden.

Its permanent pruning has kept the number down to less than 5 per cent of user accounts for many years, it says, with CEO Parag Agrawal claiming in a long Twitter thread on Monday that its estimates have been well below 5 per cent for the past four quarters.

Prospective buyer Elon Musk was unimpressed with this, tweeting a pile of pooh emoticon in reply. At a conference, he compared the situation with buying a property infested with termites rather than snails: “You say the house has less than 5 per cent termites. That’s an acceptable number. But if it turns out the right per cent is 90 per cent termites, that’s not OK.”

He said a lower price than his $44bn offer for the company was “not out of the question” and he believed at least 20 per cent of the accounts on the network were fake, and that the proportion could be as high as 90 per cent.

Those estimates lack the insights Twitter has on its users in terms of IP addresses, geolocation and other data. “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),” said Agrawal.

In a filing on Tuesday, the social media company said: “Twitter is committed to completing the transaction on the agreed price”. That’s a lot higher than where its stock currently stands. Its shares closed 2.5 per cent higher today at $38.32, well below the $54.20 offer price.

It’s hard to see how the impasse can be resolved, given the shifting nature of the account problem, with Twitter suspending half a million spam accounts a day. Musk needs to be provided with a deeper dive on what takes place internally and Agrawal said he looked forward to continuing the conversation.

Lex says the recurrent 5 per cent number is suspicious and Musk is right to worry advertisers would push back if the figure was found to be higher. Real users are unlikely to desert Twitter over this — Elaine Moore has been trying newer social networks in the shape of Mastodon and BeReal, with neither really appealing to her.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. China tech gets promise of support
Liu He, China’s top economic official, met dozens of executives and industry experts on Tuesday, pledging “support” for tech companies amid a deepening economic slump. Markets were closely watching the meeting in the hope it could signal an end to Beijing’s regulatory crackdown on internet companies.

2. Tiger Global’s tech rout
The hedge fund known for making big bets on tech companies slashed its shareholdings and dumped stakes in companies such as Netflix and Rivian as it suffered heavy losses during this year’s stock market rout. The total value of Tiger Global’s public stock positions fell from $46bn at the end of last year to just over $26bn at the end of the first quarter, according to regulatory filings.

3. Mastercard’s ‘pay with a smile’
Mastercard is launching a biometric payments programme in stores that allows customers to pay with a gesture such as a smile. The facial recognition software will come from companies including Japan’s NEC, Brazil’s Payface and California-based PopID.

4. Trump media venture warns of bankruptcy risk
The blank-cheque company set to merge with Donald Trump’s social media start-up has warned shareholders that its plan to “cancel ‘cancel culture’” faces risks because of the former president’s history of business bankruptcies. “A number of companies that were associated with President Trump have filed for bankruptcy,” the company said in a registration statement. “There can be no assurances that TMTG will not also become bankrupt.”

5. FT/Ofcom competition winners push for social media safeguards
Social media video platforms should step up safeguards for their teenage users, enforce age limits and increase monitoring against harmful content to make them kinder, safer places for young people, students say. Ellie Hattam, one of the winners of a joint competition run by FT Schools and the regulator Ofcom, called for bans on fake accounts, hidden identities and harmful hashtags; tougher age verification; and “child friendly” versions for easier monitoring of content.

Tech tools — Sonos Ray

“Hey Sonos” voice control is being rolled out to the company’s wireless smart speakers from next month in the US, with the commands being focused on the music experience such as asking them to skip tracks or adjust volume. Also coming next month is Ray, a cheaper (£279, $279), smaller soundbar than its existing Beam (£449, $449) and Arc (£899, $899). It has four internal speakers, whose sound should fill a medium-sized room. What HiFi? has an assessment.

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Source: Financial Times