That's the sound of Twitter eliminating 70 million fake accounts over the past 60 days. Company reps say they've been weeding out Russian bots, spam purveyors, and other malicious Twitter accounts at the rate of about 9.9 million per week. 70 million is a big drop from the 336 million active user count the social-media company has mentioned recently.
The reasoning has to do with recent government pressure to deal with a growing fake news crisis. Bots spray links out to unsuspecting users, who accept headlines and news reports without really considering the source. It's created a crisis because, in the last presidential election, the uncontrolled spread of misinformation made an impact with voters. Now, the social-media giants are trying to combat the problem.
The big surprise? News about Twitter deleting these accounts created quite a bit of chaos on Wall Street, causing the stock to drop by almost 10 percent this morning, with a rebound after executives clarified the issue--saying it's routine maintenance, something Twitter has been doing for years. The drop stands at around a 5 percent decline after an all-time high in June.
You might wonder why everyone is so worried.
First, these cleansing activities are ultimately for the best. Spammy accounts don't help the Twitter brand at all, turning the network into a cesspool of regurgitated garbage. It's a necessary evil, because the serious drop in active accounts reminds everyone that Twitter has not been able to catch on with the general public in the same way that Facebook or Instagram have.
In fact, there's a growing perception that Twitter is really just the purview of celebrities, trolls, famous people, politicians, and journalists like myself. Ask the average knowledge worker in an office about Twitter and you might get a blank stare. It's not how we connect with other people (e.g., Facebook), it's not how we share photos (e.g., Instagram), it's not how we send direct messages (e.g., Snapchat), and it's not how we find a job or connect with co-workers (e.g., LinkedIn).
So what is the value of Twitter? For the past year or two, I've been wanting to see more innovation with the service. The company keeps battling online abuse and spam, but that just seems like maintenance. Facebook has the same problem. We're distracted by the fact these services have given trolls a platform for abuse, or that they've leaked our data. Meanwhile, they work about the same way without any added functionality.
Twitter needs to reinvent itself if the company has any hope of attracting new users. Part of the issue is that everyday users don't see anything that would make them want to use the service. If they want to see a single tweet from a celebrity, they can look it up in a Google search. Getting new members--replacing those 70 million accounts with real humans--will require a colossal effort in reestablishing the brand. Maybe it's a new way to communicate directly with people in a safe and secure way, maybe it's a more robust platform for archiving, editing, and sharing photos. (Right now, Twitter has minimal photo features.) More important, I'd love to see some radical new features that help us connect and share our info in a way that seems useful and brand new.
Until that happens, we'll keep seeing ghost accounts go poof.