One of Elon Musk’s top priorities for Twitter following his $44 billion deal to buy the social media company is cracking down on so-called “spam bots.” One problem with that plan: It would cut his own following nearly in half, according to Twitter auditing tool SparkToro.
Spam bots are the “single most annoying problem” on Twitter, Musk tweeted earlier this month. He later affirmed his commitment to weeding out fake accounts in a statement he gave announcing his deal with Twitter on Monday.
“I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans,” he said. “Twitter has tremendous potential—I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”
Spam bots on Twitter are automated accounts that mimic the activity of real people on the site, but are programmed to engage in malicious activity ranging from spreading misinformation to promoting money-making schemes. Musk has specifically called out bots that promote crypto-based scams on Twitter, complaining in a live TED interview on April 14 that “they make the product much worse.”
“If I had a Dogecoin for every crypto scam I saw, we’d have 100 billion Dogecoin,” he said.
Read More: What Elon Musk Really Believes
While Twitter already has policies in place intended to combat spam bots, security remains a persistent challenge for the platform. Musk has vowed to solve the problem by authenticating “all real humans” on the site, but hasn’t elaborated on how he plans to accomplish that.
Meanwhile, Musk’s own follower count is significantly boosted by fake accounts. Of Musk’s current 87.9 million followers, SparkToro estimates that roughly 48% are fake—i.e., accounts that are “unreachable and will not see the account’s tweets (either because they’re spam, bots, propaganda, etc. or because they’re no longer active on Twitter).”
Musk has nearly 7% more fake followers than the median 41% that accounts with a similar sized followings have, SparkToro reports. By analyzing more than 25 factors correlated with spam, bots, and low quality accounts, the auditing tool found that accounts that are on an unusually small number of lists, accounts that have no url or a non-resolving url in their profile, and accounts that have a suspiciously small number of followers were some of the most frequently observed traits of a sample of 2,000 random accounts from the most recent 100,000 accounts that followed Musk.
Even so, those stats aren’t outside the norm for prominent Twitter personalities like Musk. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former President Barack Obama, for instance, boast fake follower percentages of 46% and 44% for their respective followings of 58.4 million and 131.7 million, while celebrities like Kim Kardashian (72.2 million followers) and Cristiano Ronaldo (99.5 million followers) land at approximately 45% and 43%.
SparkToro’s tool can no longer access data for former President Donald Trump, but it estimated in 2018 that 61% of his 54.8 million followers at the time were fake. Trump’s following increased to nearly 89 million by the time he was permanently banned from Twitter in January 2021.
Like many of Musk’s high-minded goals for Twitter, exterminating spam bots won’t be easy, and one of the best indicators of his success may be a considerable drop in his own follower count.
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