Almost Half of Elon Musk’s Twitter Followers Are Fake
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 can be found everywhere “single most annoying problem”Musk posted earlier in the month on Twitter. Musk later reiterated his resolve to eliminate fake accounts, in a statement that he released on Monday after announcing the deal with Twitter.
“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.”
Spambots on Twitter are bots that imitate real-life activity on Twitter but are programed to do malicious activities, such as spreading misinformation and promoting money-making scams. 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.
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Twitter has security policies that are designed to prevent spambots. However, this is still a problem for many users. 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 or because they’re no longer active on Twitter).”
SparkToro has found that Musk is nearly seven times more likely to have fake followers than accounts of a comparable size. An auditing tool that analyzes more than 25 factors that correlate with spam, bots and low quality accounts found that accounts on a large number of lists, accounts with no URL or non-resolving links in their profile and accounts having a high number of followers are the most common traits observed from a random sample of 2,000 accounts. This was based upon the 100,000 accounts that Musk had followed.
Even so, those stats aren’t outside the norm for prominent Twitter personalities like Musk. Microsoft founder Bill Gates (ex-President Barack Obama) boasts fake following percentages at 46% and 44% respectively, while Kim Kardashian (72.2 Million followers) or Cristiano Ronaldo (99.5M followers) hover around 45% to 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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