Product Product Management

No twitter did not say only 5% of users are SPAM

Media deliberately conflates mDAU with DAU but the difference is very important

Ever since Elon musk raised concerns about spam accounts on twitter, tonnes of twitter experts , tech media, and “Social media analyst companies” have been talking about how twitter’s claim in its filing that less than 5% of it’s users are spam is wrong. How their estimates are much much higher

Only problem, Twitter did not exactly make that claim , and as usual the tech media decided to ignore that, deliberately I believe(more on that later in article) .

The Claim

Lets first look at the filing that everyone keeps referring to
Here is the exact line from the filing

Twitters actual claim:

The actual claim is

Average of false or spam accounts during the fourth quarter of 2021 represented fewer than 5% of our mDAU during the quarter.

Lets define the terms:

DAU: Daily Active user
mDAU: Monetizable daily active user

The “m” is super important. So what is the difference? While I would love to think that it’s possibly industry specific terminology that most people do not get, twitter in its annual report actually defines for anyone who bothers to read.

We define mDAU as people, organizations, or other accounts who logged in or were otherwise authenticated and accessed Twitter on any given day through, Twitter applications that are able to show ads, or paid Twitter products, including subscriptions

So what twitter is saying is that of the number of people who they could have shown Ads to , only 5% of them were SPAM as per their estimates.

This implies you will have to remove any accounts that tweet using systems where No ads can be shown.

For eg, its likely that you would not see an Ad if you used an API to post a tweet, and this may extend to third party clients which allow you to post. Eg: I sometimes use roam(My notes app) to directly post.

Twitter APIs allow you post 200 tweets in a span of 15 minutes

This changes a lot

  • Lots of bots and spams would be using automated scripts and APIs to post. They would never be on a surface where they can be shown ads, hence Non Monetisable. Thy are not counted
  • Real users tweeting using certain clients (Or automated scripts like IFTTT) may not be counted
  • Any account which is spam or even likely spam may be tagged by ad engine as such, and removed from potential monetisation and hence not counted. Twitter even mentions that in their filing in the same para as the 5% claim

After we determine an account is spam, malicious automation, or fake, we stop counting it in our mDAU, or other related metrics

So possibly a large swatch of accounts that may be labeled as potentially spam and fake never get to see an Ad, and hence not counted.

Not every potential spam account is deleted , possibly because there can be lot of false positives . Lot of real people behave like bots and the ad engine may have stricter rules

Fun thought exercise: If you behave like a bot, do you get ad free twitter?

A good visualisation of this would be something like this

Monetised SPAM accounts are 5% of the total green rectangle

So fake accounts on twitter could be 20% or even 50%, if they are not being monetised, it’s not counted.

The main claim in some sense is : If an advertiser spends money to reach users on twitter, only 5% of those users would be Fake.

This is an advertiser facing metric and not a user facing one. Your own experience is not what is being measured

Now coming back to how it gets reported. Remember the screenshot of reuters I shared above? In the the sub heading they do decide to make that distinction, indicating that they know this difference but chose to NOT talk about it in main heading.

This is repeated across many articles across various tech media sites. Either they ignore it and assume mDAU =DAU(which is incompetence) ,or hide it in text which I think is not very ethical.

This distinction is so important that it needs to be called out in the MAIN heading

Some examples of Media reporting:




Business Insider

So does twitter not have Bot problem?

Not exactly. There are 5% fake users on a platform is very different from “of the people who can be shown ads, only 5% are Fake”.
The data needed to verify this claim is

  • Who was monetised
  • Take a sample of these monetised users
  • Define and agree on the principles if what is SPAM/ Fake account
  • See what %age of these users fit that definition

This. is why its almost impossible to verify this claim without having access to twitters internal systems.

What percentage of SPAM accounts exists severely affects users and have a negative effect on user experience. This absolutely needs to be addressed, but the claim twitter is making is not about a user facing metric but rather an advertiser facing.

The big question that needs an answer is : What percentage of twitters daily active users in monetisable.

Its very much possible that twitter is lying, or maybe they count every DAU as monetisable, maybe their SPAM engines are too lenient but we need internal data to know that .

I for one do not suspect twitter doing anything shady .

So do not blindly believe the headlines, and develop a lot more skepticism

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