Elon Musk and Twitter Inc. chief Parag Agrawal are butting heads over the way the social media giant handles so-called automated bots, stoking speculation Musk may try to lower the price or even walk away from his $44 billion offer for the company. Musk told a tech conference in Miami that fake users make up at least 20% of all Twitter accounts, possibly as high as 90%. Twitter disagrees. It reports that spam accounts make up fewer than 5% of total users, and Agrawal posted a long thread laying out his company’s methodology. Musk replied by tweeting “this deal cannot move forward” unless Twitter provides proof of its claims.
On Twitter, bots are automated accounts that can do the same things as real human beings: send out tweets, follow other users and like and retweet postings by others. Spam bots use these abilities to engage in potentially deceptive, harmful or annoying activity. Spam bots programmed with a commercial motivation might tweet incessantly in an attempt to drive traffic to a website for a product or service. They can be used to spread misinformation and promote political messages. In the 2016 presidential election, there were concerns that Russian bots helped influence the race in favor of the winner, Donald Trump. Spam bots can also disseminate links to fake giveaways and other financial scams. After announcing his plans to acquire Twitter, Musk said one of his priorities is cracking down on spam bots that promote scams involving cryptocurrencies.