Twitter today announced it’d be removing locked accounts from users’ follower counts. If you’ve noticed a precipitous drop in follower counts today, it’s not you — it’s your followers.
Reports surfaced earlier this week that Twitter had suspended a multitude of fake accounts in the months of May and June — apparently in an attempt to curb the rise of bots and their accompanying cocktail of issues. The number of accounts targeted is reportedly around 70 million.
To be clear, locked accounts aren’t bot accounts necessarily — at one point, they were created and operated by a real person. Accounts on Twitter are locked when they begin to display spammy behavior, especially if it’s in opposition to how the account usually behaves. That includes a sudden increase in tweets with multiple unsolicited mentions, a high number of accounts blocking the account, and/or tweets with misleading links.
When spotted, those accounts are suspended so they can no longer interact with the rest of the site. Up to now, though, they would still be counted among a user’s followers.
Twitter’s Trust & Safety Lead Vijaya Gadde stated in a blog post the follower count is one of the first things a user looks at when visiting a profile, and that’s why it matters:
Follower counts are a visible feature, and we want everyone to have confidence that the numbers are meaningful and accurate… 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.
Follower account numbers have indeed been a rather controversial way to measure account credibility — and it’s why there’s been a booming business in Twitter bots for years. A report by the New York Times earlier this year says a veritable black market traffics in phony (and occasionally stolen) identities made specifically to boost users’ follower count.
Removing suspicious accounts on Twitter is not just minor clean-up. These accounts can auto-retweet, like and spam tweets in ways that boost certain tweets and accounts above others. It’s been a major thorn in Twitter’s side for quite some time.
The locked accounts will be eliminated from your follower account this week. Gadde said the company doesn’t expect it to much affect the average user, but larger accounts might see “a more significant drop.”