Twitter targets ‘locked’ accounts that juice follower stats

July 11, 2018 5:34 pm Published by

Twitter is purging Twitter is purging Credit: Illustration by Tam Nguyen/Ad Age

If you noticed a dip in your Twitter follower account today, you’re not alone. Twitter has warned users and brands that it is purging more accounts from the service and they could see a dip in followers.

The media-messaging service is focusing on locked accounts in its latest effort to clean up spam, bots and otherwise fraudulent activity. On Wednesday it announced that locked accounts will no longer appear in follower numbers. Locked accounts are those that Twitter has deemed suspect and then subsequently frozen from tweeting. An account can draw Twitter’s suspicion through changes in behavior that makes it seem like the account has been overtaken by fraudsters.

Locked accounts had previously appeared in follower counts giving an inflated impresion of the active audience for a given brand or creator. Twitter said the latest enforcement would only slightly impact most people’s follower numbers, dropping them by four on average, but the larger accounts could see a “more significant” drop.

For the past two years, the advertising industry has wanted a cleaner, more transparent social media ecosystem. Advertisers have specifically wanted so-called influencers, web personalities that get paid to endorse products, to be properly measured.

Keith Weed, CMO at Unilever, has been one of those voices calling for platforms like Twitter and Facebook to ensure they only count authentic audiences and combat spam. Weed and other brand leaders have been reacting to the 2016 presidential election, which revealed an unwieldy amount of bot-driven activity on Facebook and Twitter poisoning the atmosphere for many advertisers.

“We need to make sure that we advertise on platforms that are trusted by consumers,” Weed says, during a phone interview Wednesday, adding that he was encouraged by Twitter’s latest steps.

The inflated numbers haven’t had an impact on Unilever’s ads on Twitter or affected how campaigns perform, Weed says. But where they do have the most impact is in places like influencer marketing, where the brands pay web celebrities to endorse their products, and they often pay based on the follower count, Weed says.

“That is fraud, misrepresenting the number of followers you have,” Weed says. “It undermines the market.”

Twitter recently disclosed that it has purged more than 70 million fake accounts since May, which were separate from the “locked” accounts targeted in the announcement Wednesday.

However, the locked and fake accounts have been described as mostly inactive, dormant for weeks or months before Twitter took action. That’s why Twitter says the numbers won’t impact its monthly active user base it reports every quarter. Last quarter, Twitter had 336 million monthly active users, a number that has remained largely flat for a couple years as Facebook has seen its user base skyrocket to more than 2 billion a month, and Facebook-owned Instagram has ballooned to 1 billion monthly active users.

Facebook has started its own war against fake accounts, trying to thwart the type of foreign interference it uncovered following the 2016 election, which was spearheaded by fraudulent actors impersonating U.S. voters on the service.

In May, Facebook said it took down 583 million fake accounts between October and March.

There have been questions about how effective Twitter can be if it targets mostly inactive accounts while active accounts appear to still be making noise across the platform.

Noah Mallin, head of experience, content and partnerships at Wavemaker North America, says that Twitter has been more proactive trying to remove the impediments that have typically turned off its user base, the harassment and the spam.

“The first step is to clean out the old stuff,” Mallin says, referring to the dormant and locked accounts. “Then it needs to build the infrastructure that would truly attack this issue.”

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