Twitter gives fake follower accounts the bird

12 Jul 2018

Image: Rawpixel/Shutterstock

Major purge of fake accounts is because Twitter wants to foster healthy, authentic conversations on its platform.

Twitter is to remove millions of suspicious locked accounts from its platform with the result that users will see their number of followers decline.

Crucially, Twitter is taking aim at one of the major forms of fraud on its platform: the use of overblown numbers of bought followers by users (in many cases, automated or fake accounts) in order to make them look more popular than they actually are.

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

Twitter says the move is designed to ensure trust in the platform and promote healthier and more authentic conversation.

“Follower counts are a visible feature, and we want everyone to have confidence that the numbers are meaningful and accurate,” explained Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s legal, policy, and trust and safety lead.

“Over the years, we’ve locked accounts when we detected sudden changes in account behaviour. In these situations, we reach out to the owners of the accounts and unless they validate the account and reset their passwords, we keep them locked with no ability to log in. This week, we’ll be removing these locked accounts from follower counts across profiles globally. As a result, the number of followers displayed on many profiles may go down.”

The development follows similar moves by Twitter to make its platform a healthier place to tweet and debate, including mechanisms to spot trolls as well as greater ad transparency tools.

Keeping it real

From today (12 July), users who bought fake followers or who are followed by suspicious accounts will see their number of followers decline. The effect could reduce the total combined follower count by 6pc.

“Most people will see a change of four followers or fewer; others with larger follower counts will experience a more significant drop. We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation.

“Though the most significant changes are happening in the next few days, follower counts may continue to change more regularly as part of our ongoing work to proactively identify and challenge problematic accounts,” Gadde said.

Accounts are usually locked by Twitter when it detects sudden changes in behaviour, such as a large volume of unsolicited replies or mentions, misleading links, or if a large number of accounts block the same account after mentioning.

“This specific update is focused on followers because it is one of the most visible features on our service and often associated with account credibility. Once an account is locked, it cannot tweet, like or retweet, and it is not served ads,” Gadde added.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years