Twitter Is Getting Ready to Remove Locked Accounts From Follower Totals

Most people won't see a big drop

The effort will impact tens of millions of locked accounts that represent about 6% of all follows. Getty Images
Headshot of Marty Swant

Twitter users who pride themselves on having a high follower count might soon have their egos slightly bruised.

The company is getting ready to remove accounts that have been locked over the years, a move Twitter hopes will ensure users know how many real people follow them. The changes were announced in a blog post today.

So what exactly triggers Twitter to consider locking an account? Twitter notices “sudden changes in account behavior” and only locks an account after getting in touch with the user to try to determine whether they still have control of their account. Examples of sudden changes include tweeting large volumes of unsolicited replies or mentions, tweeting misleading links or being blocked by a large number of users after being mentioned.

In late June, Twitter announced it had removed 9.9 million “spammy or automated” accounts each week in May and June, amounting to about 70 million fake accounts. However, Twitter said the 70 million count was spam and therefore not reflected in its total monthly active user totals.

The company is also taking other steps to foster healthier dialogue on the platform. For example, it’s expanding the signals used to detect bad behavior such as hate speech. It’s also working on a plan to revamp the process of verifying accounts.

“Our ongoing work to improve the health of conversations on Twitter encompasses all aspects of our service,” Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s legal, policy and trust and safety lead, wrote in the blog post. “This specific update is focused on followers because it is one of the most visible features on our service and often associated with account credibility. Once an account is locked, it cannot Tweet, like or Retweet and it is not served ads.”

According to Twitter, the effort will impact tens of millions of locked accounts that represent about 6 percent of all follows. However, the changes, which begin globally this week, will likely only remove four accounts or less per user. And while most individual users won’t see much of a dip in their follower counts, users who have more followers will likely experience “a more significant drop.” Twitter declined to disclose how its monthly active user total will be affected.

The sharp cleaning of house might sound like bad news for investors and advertisers in a social media era that relies on large user growth to please both Wall Street and Madison Avenue. In fact, Twitter shares fell 8 percent on Monday after The Washington Post reported on the 70 million fake accounts. But Twitter is hoping its efforts will be seen as a sign of good faith, and some brands are already applauding the move toward transparency.

“Our digital ecosystem is being polluted by a growing number of fake user accounts,” Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed said in a statement to Adweek. “So Twitter’s commitment to cleaning up the digital space should be welcomed wholeheartedly by everyone, from users of the platforms, to creators and advertisers. People having an artificially inflated follower count made up of bots and redundant accounts is at best deceiving and at worst, fraud. It serves no one and undermines trust in the entire system.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.