Elon Musk Takes a Wrong Approach to Counting Fake, Twitter Spam: Experts

Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent Twitter shares plummeted on Friday when he said he would put his own $ 44 billion acquisition of the “pending” social network while researching the proportion of fake and spam accounts on the platform.

Although Musk later made it clear that he remains committed to the deal, he continued to hammer on the issue of fake accounts. He wrote on Twitter that his team would carry out their own analyzes and expressed doubts about the accuracy of the numbers reported by Twitter in his latest financial documents.

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

Twitter he also admitted that he overestimated the number of users from 1.4 million to 1.9 million users over the past 3 years. The company wrote, “In March 2019, we rolled out a feature that allowed people to link multiple separate accounts together to conveniently switch between accounts,” Twitter revealed. “An error was made at that time, such that actions taken via the master account resulted in all linked accounts being counted as mDAUs.”

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

That’s what the SpaceX is and Tesla The CEO said he would do to determine how many spam, fake and duplicate accounts exist on Twitter:

“To find out, my team will run a random sample of 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 many followers” and “Ignore the first 1000 followers, then choose every 10. I’m open to better ideas”.

Musk also said, without providing any evidence, that he chose 100 as the sample size number for his study because it is the number used by Twitter to calculate the numbers in their earnings reports.

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

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment Saturday morning when asked if its description of its methodology was accurate.

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz touched on the matter via his Twitter account, noting that Musk’s approach isn’t actually random, he uses too small a sample and leaves room for huge errors.

He wrote: “I also feel that ‘I don’t trust the Twitter team to help draw the champion’ is his 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 “single use”. hate accounts “that typically target and harass individuals, along with others who spread disinformation on purpose.

BotSentinel, which is primarily supported by crowdfunding, independently analyzes and identifies unauthentic activity on Twitter using a mix of machine learning software and human review teams. The company now monitors over 2.5 million Twitter accounts, mostly English-speaking users.

“I think Twitter doesn’t realistically classify accounts as ‘fake and spam’,” Bouzy said.

It also warns that the number of inauthentic accounts can appear higher or lower in different corners of Twitter depending on the topics discussed. 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 stupid sampling scheme.”

Carl T Bergstrom

Author, “Calling Bulls —“

Carl T. Bergstrom, a University of Washington professor who co-wrote a book to help people understand data and avoid being fooled by false claims online, he told CNBC that sampling one hundred followers from a single Twitter account shouldn’t act as “due diligence” to make a $ 44 billion acquisition.

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

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

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