Starting this week, most Twitter users around the world will notice a slight drop in their follower counts. That's because, beginning today, the company plans to stop counting locked Twitter accounts in a user's total number of followers.
Twitter announced the changes Wednesday as part of its "healthy conversations" initiative, which in part seeks to weed out fraudulent and spammy accounts. In a blog post, Twitter's Legal, Policy, and Trust & Safety Lead Vijaya Gadde suggests that for most users the change will be tiny — about four followers or fewer. But for users with large followings — especially those who've attempted to inflate their followings with purchased followers — the number of purged accounts could be much higher. "We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation," Gadde's post reads.
According to Twitter, locked accounts are not necessarily automated bot or spam accounts. Twitter locks accounts for a variety of reasons, including when the company has reason to believe that the account has been hacked or otherwise compromised. An account can be locked if Twitter believes it has tweeted "a large volume of unsolicited replies and mentions" or if it has tweeted "misleading links." Similarly, Twitter will lock an account and inquire with the account owner if the company notices "a large number of accounts block the account after mentioning them."
In all cases, Twitter contacts the owner of the locked account with instructions on how to unlock their account. According to a Twitter spokesperson, the locked account has one month to comply or verify itself before it is then purged from follower lists.
The announcement comes as Twitter cracks down on fraudulent accounts. According to a Washington Post report, Twitter has recently been suspending as many as 1 million fake or suspicious accounts per day. Twitter's renewed focus has come after years of reports of suspicious behavior, including "Tweetdecking" networks of users who buy and sell retweets, Twitter's admission that more than 50,000 Russia-linked bot accounts tweeted about the 2016 US election campaign, and a New York Times report investigating shady social media marketplaces for buying and selling identities to celebrities and brands.
And while dropping locked accounts from follower counts won't do much to mitigate the outgrowth of automated bots or stem the tide of misinformation, the move may be a small step toward transparency when it comes to scams accounts and bad actors. Follower counts are — rightly or not — a key metric of legitimacy across the network, and purging inflated numbers is one small way to restore trust.
Charlie Warzel is a Senior Technology Writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in Missoula, Montana
Contact Charlie Warzel at email@example.com.
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