Hold for the drop: Twitter to purge locked accounts from follower metrics

Twitter is making a major change aimed at cleaning up the spammy legacy of its platform.

This week it will globally purge accounts it has previously locked (i.e. after suspecting them of being spammy) — by removing the accounts from users’ follower metrics.

Which in plain language means Twitter users with lots of followers are likely to see their follower counts take a noticeable hit in the coming days. So hold tight for the drop.

Late last month Twitter flagged smaller changes to follower counts, also as part of a series of platform-purging anti-spam measures — warning users they might see their counts fluctuate more as counts had been switched to being displayed in near real-time (in that case to try to prevent spambots and follow scams artificially inflating account metrics).

But the global purge of locked accounts from user account metrics looks like it’s going to be a rather bigger deal, putting some major dents in certain high profile users’ follower counts — and some major dents in celeb egos.

Hence Twitter has blogged again. “Follower counts are a visible feature, and we want everyone to have confidence that the numbers are meaningful and accurate,” writes Twitter’s Vijaya Gadde, legal, policy and trust & safety lead, flagging the latest change.

“Most people will see a change of four followers or fewer; others with larger follower counts will experience a more significant drop.”

It will certainly be interesting to see whether the change substantially dents Twitter follower counts of high profiles users — such as Katy Perry (109,609,073 Twitter followers at the time of writing) Donald Trump (53,379,873); Taylor Swift (85,566,010); Elon Musk (22,329,075); and Beyoncé (15,303,191), to name a few of the platform’s most followed users.

Check back in a week to see how their follower counts look.

“We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation,” adds Gadde.

Twitter is also warning that while “the most significant changes” will happen in the next few days, users’ follower counts “may continue to change more regularly as part of our ongoing work to proactively identify and challenge problematic accounts”.

The company says it locks accounts if it detects sudden changes in account behavior — such as tweeting “a large volume of unsolicited replies or mentions, Tweeting misleading links, or if a large number of accounts block the account after mentioning them” — which therefore may indicate an account has been hacked/taken over by a spambot.

It says it may also lock accounts if we see email and password combinations from other services posted online and believe that information could put the security of an account at risk.

After locking an account Twitter contacts the owner to try to confirm they still have control of the account. If the owner does not reply to confirm the account stays locked — and will soon also be removed from follower counts globally.

Twitter emphasizes that locked accounts already cannot Tweet, like or Retweet, and are not served ads. But removing them from follower counts is an important additional step that it’s great to see Twitter making — albeit at long last

Twitter also specifies that locked accounts that have not reset their password in more than one month were already not included in Twitter’s MAU or DAU counts — so it today reiterates the CFO’s recent message, saying this change won’t affect its own platform usage metrics. 

The company has been going through what — this time — looks to be a serious house-cleaning process for some months now, after years and years of criticism for failing to effectively tackle rampant spam and abuse on its platform.

In March, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also put out a call for ideas to help it capture, measure and evaluate healthy interactions on its platform and the health of public conversations generally — saying: “Ultimately we want to have a measurement of how it affects the broader society and public health, but also individual health, as well.”

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