SAN FRANCISCO — From Donald Trump to Barack Obama, the bragging rights of Twitter’s most powerful are about to get seriously humbled.
As tens of millions of Twitter accounts are wiped out from follower counts starting Thursday, everyday folks will take a hit in that all-important measure of online popularity and influence, too. But the most popular accounts with tens of millions of followers, the ones that make mere mortals ooze buckets of digital envy, will be in for a world of hurt as Twitter deflates their follower counts by getting rid of the fake ones.
The move is also expected to trigger new complaints from conservatives who say they are unfairly targeted and penalized by the liberal powers-that-be at Twitter.
For Twitter, this is the latest effort to crack down on suspicious and fraudulent behavior on the platform and restore trust with users. Follower counts, like everything else on the platform, should be accurate, it says. It’s not removing the accounts from the service, it’s just no longer counting them as followers.
Most people will see a drop of four followers or fewer, according to the San Francisco company. The likes of Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Rihanna could see their Twitter cred slide significantly as about 6 percent of the total combined follower count permanently vanishes.
The Internet has experienced this kind of bloodbath before. In 2014, we had the Instagram Rapture, when the Facebook-owned company slashed deactivated spam accounts and other accounts that violated its guidelines. Distraught users begged the company to stop decimating follower counts as celebrities like Justin Bieber mourned the loss of millions of followers.
So what are these accounts no longer being counted as followers? Twitter says it locked accounts after detecting sudden changes in activity, for example tweeting unsolicited replies or mentions, posting misleading links or if the account is blocked by a large number of other accounts. Twitter then contacted the account holders to ask them to verify the account and reset their password. If the account holders don’t respond, the accounts remained locked.
For CEO Jack Dorsey, cleaning up shady social media practices such as automated bot accounts and the buying and selling of followers is critical to promoting “healthy” conversation on Twitter. Think of this as his latest volley in an intensifying battle to stem the spread of abuse, misinformation and propaganda that undercut trust in the platform, particularly after revelations that Russian operatives exploited Twitter to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
Twitter has shaved follower counts before. It cracked down on bots and fake accounts earlier this year, too, following a New York Times report that uncovered substantial follower fraud.
Twitter has 336 million users who log in each month. Most of the accounts which were frozen by Twitter for suspicious behavior had not been active in at least a month.
Last week the Washington Post reported that Twitter would suspend more than 1 million accounts a day, shaking up the company’s stock and getting the notice of Trump, who tweeted: “Twitter is getting rid of fake accounts at a record pace. Will that include the Failing New York Times and propaganda machine for Amazon, the Washington Post, who constantly quote anonymous sources that, in my opinion, don’t exist – They will both be out of business in 7 years!”