Elon Musk Takes the Wrong Approach to Telling Fakes and Spam on Twitter: Experts

Elon Musk Takes the Wrong Approach to Telling Fakes and Spam on Twitter: Experts

Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent Twitter shares plummeting on Friday when he said he would put his $44 billion takeover of the social network “on hold” while he surveys the proportion of fake accounts and spam on the platform.

While Musk later clarified that he remains committed to the deal, he continued to push the issue of fake accounts. He wrote on Twitter that his team would do its own analysis and expressed doubts about the accuracy of the numbers that Twitter reported in its most recent financial reports.

In its Q1 earnings report of this year, Twitter acknowledged that there are multiple “fake or spam accounts” on its platform, as well as legitimate monetizable daily active users (mDAU). The company said: “We performed an internal analysis of a sample of accounts and estimated that the average fake or spam accounts during Q1 2022 represented less than 5% of our mDAU during the quarter.”

Twitter also admitted to exaggerating the number of users by 1.4 million to 1.9 million users in the last 3 years. The company wrote: “In March 2019, we released a feature that allowed people to link multiple separate accounts to conveniently switch between accounts,” Twitter posted. “An error occurred at that time, so actions performed through the main account resulted in all linked accounts being counted as mDAU.”

While Musk may be justifiably curious, experts in social media, disinformation and statistical analysis say his suggested approach to further analysis is woefully lacking.

Here’s what the SpaceX and Tesla CEO said he would do to determine how many spam, fake and duplicate accounts there are on Twitter:

“To find out, my team will randomly sample 100 @twitter followers. I invite others to repeat the same process and see what they find.” He clarified his methodology in subsequent tweets, adding, “Choose any account with a lot of followers” and “Ignore the first 1,000 followers, then choose every 10. I’m open to better ideas.”

Musk also said, without providing evidence, that he chose 100 as the sample size number for his study because that’s the number Twitter uses to calculate the numbers in its earnings reports.

“Any sensible random sampling process is fine. If many people get similar results independently for % fake/spam/duplicate accounts, that will be telling. I chose 100 as the sample size number because that’s what Twitter uses to calculate <5 % false/spam/duplicate."

Twitter declined to comment when asked if its description of its methodology was accurate.

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz assessed the issue via his own Twitter account, pointing out that Musk’s approach isn’t really random, uses a very small sample and leaves room for massive errors.

He wrote: “I also feel that ‘don’t trust the Twitter team to help extract the sample’ is its own kind of red flag.”

BotSentinel founder and CEO Christopher Bouzy said in an interview with CNBC that his company’s analysis indicates that 10% to 15% of Twitter accounts are likely “inauthentic”, including fakes, spammers, scammers, nefarious bots, duplicates and hate accounts” that typically target and harass individuals, along with others who spread disinformation on purpose.

BotSentinel, which is primarily crowdfunded, independently analyzes and identifies inauthentic activity on Twitter using a mix of machine learning software and teams of human reviewers. The company monitors more than 2.5 million Twitter accounts today, mostly English-speaking users.

“I don’t think Twitter is realistically classifying accounts as ‘fake and spam,'” said Bouzy.

He also warns that the number of inauthentic accounts may appear higher or lower in different corners of Twitter, depending on the topics under discussion. For example, more inauthentic accounts tweet about politics, cryptocurrency, climate change and covid than those discussing non-controversial topics like kittens and origami, BotSentinel found.

“I just can’t understand that Musk is doing anything other than trolling us with this silly sampling scheme.”

Carl T Bergstrom

Author, “Calling Bulls—“

Carl T. Bergstrom, a professor at the University of Washington who co-wrote a book to help people understand data and avoid being misled by false claims online, told CNBC that sampling 100 followers of any one Twitter account should not do. as “due diligence”. ” for making a $44 billion acquisition.

He said a sample size of 100 is orders of magnitude smaller than the norm for social media researchers who study this sort of thing. The biggest problem Musk would face with this approach is known as selection bias.

Bergstrom wrote in a message to CNBC: “There is no reason to believe that the official Twitter account followers are a representative sample of accounts on the platform. Perhaps bots are less likely to follow this account to avoid detection. Perhaps they are more likely to follow to look legit. Who knows? But I just can’t imagine Musk doing anything other than trolling us with this silly sampling scheme.”

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