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Elon Musk vs Parag Agrawal: Battle over spam, fake Twitter accounts

Top exec leaves NBCUniversal amid Twitter CEO reports
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The knives were finally out on Monday between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, as the latter went into greater detail on how the microblogging platform is combating spam and fake Twitter accounts, to which Musk objected and halted the $44 billion Twitter takeover deal.

Musk even showed Agrawal an emoji depicting a “pile of poo” on his Twitter thread.

As Elon Musk questioned Twitter data on removing fake/spammy accounts last week, Agrawal attempted to dispel concerns about the presence of fake/spammy accounts in a Twitter thread, using data, facts, and context.

“Our actual internal estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5 per cent — based on the methodology outlined above. The error margins on our estimates give us confidence in our public statements each quarter,” said Agrawal.

He responded to Musk, who stated that he does not believe Twitter’s findings that false or spam accounts account for less than 5% of its monetisable daily active users (229 million).

Musk previously stated that his team was using random sampling to detect the presence of fake/spam accounts.

Agrawal replied: “Unfortunately, we don’t believe that this specific estimation can be performed externally, given the critical need to use both public and private information (which we can’t share). Externally, it’s not even possible to know which accounts are counted as mDAUs on any given day”.

To which, Musk said: “So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter.”

Agrawal also explained that spam is not simply “binary” (human/not human).

“The most advanced spam campaigns use combinations of coordinated humans + automation. They also compromise real accounts, and then use them to advance their campaign. So — they are sophisticated and hard to catch,” he argued.

“The hard challenge is that many accounts which look fake superficially – are actually real people. And some of the spam accounts which are actually the most dangerous – and cause the most harm to our users – can look totally legitimate on the surface,” said the Indian-origin CEO.

He admitted that they aren’t perfect at catching spam.

“And so this is why, after all the spam removal I talked about above, we know some still slips through. We measure this internally. And every quarter, we have estimated that <5 per cent of reported mDAU for the quarter are spam accounts,” he added.

“Our estimate is based on multiple human reviews (in replication) of thousands of accounts, that are sampled at random, consistently over time, from accounts we count as mDAUs. We do this every quarter, and we have been doing this for many years,” Agrawal noted.

Musk, whoever, was not convinced at Agrawal’s arguments.

“There are LOTS of details that are very important underneath this high-level description. We shared an overview of the estimation process with Elon a week ago and look forward to continuing the conversation with him, and all of you,” Agrawal further said.

About the author

Brendan Taylor

Brendan Taylor was a TV news producer for 5 and a half years. He is an experienced writer. Brendan covers Breaking News at Insider Paper.

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