More than 70% of Elon Musk’s Twitter followers are fake, analysis says

  • Elon Musk’s Twitter followers are probably 70% fake or spam accounts, say two research groups.
  • Their analysis flagged users based on 17 warning signs pointing to suspicious accounts.
  • This is because Musk disputes Twitter’s estimates that less than 5% of his accounts are fake.

More than 70% of billionaire Elon Musk’s 93 million followers on Twitter are likely fake or spam accounts, according to a joint audit by two research groups published Sunday.

The two groups, SparkToro and Followerwonk, said their definitions of “fake” and “spam” accounts may not be the same as Twitter’s.

They said they used a system of 17 warning signals, based on an algorithm that searched 35,000 fake Twitter accounts bought by SparkToro and 50,000 accounts the teams marked as non-spam.

If one of Musk’s followers was flagged for multiple spam signals, they rated it as low quality or fake, they said.

Fake accounts in numbers

Analyzing all of Musk’s nearly 100 million followers, they found that 73% have spam-correlated keywords on their profiles and 71% use locations that don’t match any known place name.

And 41% of these accounts use display names that match spam patterns, they said. Notably, 69% have also been inactive for more than 120 days, the groups added.

The research groups also pointed out that 83% of Musk’s followers had a “suspiciously small number of followers” and 78% had an “unusually small number of accounts”.

SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin told Insider that what defines “small number” depends on the algorithm.

“For example, an account that is older or tweet more may have a higher threshold, versus a newer account that has less tweet and a lower one,” he wrote in an email.

Other stats the teams used include the age of the Twitter account, the number of tweets it has made over an extended period of time, and whether it uses Twitter’s default profile picture.

As such, SparkToro said it defines fake accounts as “those where not regularly a human personally curates the content of their tweets, consumes the activity on their timeline, or participates in the Twitter ecosystem.”

On the other hand, Twitter defines monetization daily active users as “people, organizations or other accounts who signed up or otherwise verified and accessed Twitter on a particular day” through its paid products or platforms that display ads. , according to the company’s SEC. submit for Q1 2022.

The company has not publicly disclosed its full method of classifying fake or spam accounts.

SparkToro wrote in its analysis that some of the “fake accounts” by definition are not necessarily problematic, such as bots that collect front page news stories or bots that tweet photos and links from restaurants around the world.

But it said most of the spam accounts it flagged are guilty of spreading propaganda and disinformation, pushing


phishing

attempts or


malware

manipulating stocks and cryptocurrencies and trying to harass other users.

It also noted that its analysis could lead to undercounting of active users who are tweeting nothing more than browsing their timelines, and it may also not flag some advanced spam accounts.

Still, the research groups said their analysis relies on a “conservative” estimate of what constitutes a fake or spam account.

Musk’s Twitter bot debate

The review comes as Musk said Friday that he is suspending his $44 billion purchase of Twitter until it proves the truth of his claim that less than 5% of his users are fake.

His announcement sparked a heated online exchange between him and Parag Agrawal, the CEO of Twitter, in which the latter defended Twitter’s numbers, tweeting that it suspends half a million spam accounts a day

Musk responded with a poo emoji and wondered how advertisers with Twitter would know what their money is getting them. An analyst firm said Musk’s apparent reluctance to buy the platform could be a ploy for him to negotiate a lower price or pull out of the deal.

But Twitter said Tuesday it is sticking to the price originally agreed with Musk, which is $54.20 per share.

The Tesla CEO and founder recently admitted that his own Twitter account numbers may be too high.

Speaking at a tech conference in Miami on Monday, he pointed out that one of the platform’s most liked tweets (his own tweet about buying Coca-Cola) has 4.8 million likes compared to Twitter’s estimate of 217 million active users.

Musk said his concern is whether Twitter’s count is “an order of magnitude” incorrect.

“Something isn’t right here, and my concern here isn’t if it’s 5, or 7, or 8%, but are they potentially 80% or 90% bots?” he said.

According to SparkToro and Followerwonk estimates, approximately 19.42% of active Twitter accounts are likely spam or fake accounts, based on a sample of 44,058 random accounts.

The two groups said it’s not uncommon for prominent or large Twitter accounts like Musk’s to have a large number of fake followers. SparkToro’s follower audit tool, for example, says that nearly half of the followers on President Joe Biden’s Twitter account are fake.

In October 2018, SparkToro also conducted an analysis on former President Donald Trump, similar to the one on Musk’s account, and found that 61% of Trump’s followers were bots, spam, propaganda, or inactive accounts.

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