That was fast. On Monday billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s lawyers publicized a serious threat to walk away from his bid to buy Twitter if he didn’t start getting hard data on the phantom users (bots). Readers will recall that Twitter told the U.S. government that the bots comprise only 5% of the nearly 397 million active users. But few can literally believe that.
“Mr. Musk believes Twitter is transparently refusing to comply with its obligations under the merger agreement, which is causing further suspicion that the company is withholding the requested data due to concern for what Mr. Musk’s own analysis of that data will uncover,” the letter from Musk’s legal team said.John Brodkin, “Twitter reportedly will give Musk the full “firehose” of user data he demanded” at Ars Technica (June 8, 2022)
That concern shouldn’t surprise anyone:
Musk has repeatedly claimed Twitter’s estimate is wrong, but his assertions that the real percentage is higher are based on different types of calculations—such as the number of bots among all Twitter accounts (whether active or not) or the number of bots among accounts that post tweets every day.John Brodkin, “Twitter reportedly will give Musk the full “firehose” of user data he demanded” at Ars Technica (June 8, 2022)
Translation: Twitter would — understandably — be using a quarterly analysis that minimizes a focus on spam and bots. Musk is using an analysis that shines a spotlight on them. No surprise there, the company is on the market. Its directors are no more likely to willingly disclose negative information than people listing a home for sale do.
From an article at TechCrunch that is generally unsympathetic to Musk’s Twitter bid, we nonetheless learn:
But U.K.-based GlobalData published a study this morning alleging that at least 10% of Twitter users could be bots. It’s not clear if their data came from the “firehose” or publicly accessible data (TechCrunch asked the firm for clarification), but the study analyzed about 4 million tweets from 20,976 unique handles. GlobalData chose these accounts by collecting data from Twitter once every three hours for 22 iterations, then selected a sample size. Still, this data could be interpreted in different ways depending on the definition of spam.
“Incessant tweeting of non-original content can be considered spam, but some may choose to see it as a very active user sharing articles/opinions,” explained data scientist Sidharth Kumar. Kumar means that an account that only retweets news articles might be flagged as a bot, but in practice, it may be a real user who just doesn’t post original content.Amanda Silberling, “Twitter will reportedly hand over internal data to soothe Musk’s bot fears” at TechCrunch (June 8, 2022)
Maybe. But what are such accounts worth to the buyer? That’s the sort of discussion that typically results in renegotiated prices.
Twitter is, meanwhile, attempting to reassure frightened employees:
Gadde and other executives Wednesday responded to a flurry of employee questions and concerns about the deal. Among them: whether people will be able to continue to work from home, as Twitter has promised would be possible.
Gadde said remote work is not protected by the merger agreement, so there’s no guarantee Musk will continue to allow it, the people said.Dana Hull, Michelle F. Davis and Maxwell Adler, “Twitter Reassures Staff on Musk Deal, Sees Vote by August” at Yahoo News (June 8, 2022)
No indeed. Musk recently ended the work from home deal at Tesla: “If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.”
While many tech mavens believe that Musk is simply looking for a way out of the deal due to the current slump in tech stocks, the New York Post thinks Twitter’s “firehose” move could rescue it:
Twitter shares were flat in trading Wednesday afternoon after the report’s publication. The stock remained at around $40, well below Musk’s offer of $54.20 per share.
Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said Twitter’s move could assuage Musk’s concerns about the deal and end a standoff that has weighed on shares of both the social media and his electric vehicle company, Tesla, for days.Thomas Barrabi, “Twitter to provide Elon Musk with data ‘firehose’ during spam bot dispute: report” at New York Post (June 8, 2022)
The Post, it must be said, has a dog in this fight: Twitter silenced the Post in 2020 over a story about a laptop containing apparently incriminating information that belonged to Hunter Biden, son the U.S. president, labeling it disinformation. The story was later substantiated, as other media outlets have now admitted.
Musk weighed in on the topic recently, tweeting “Suspending the Twitter account of a major news organization for publishing a truthful story was obviously incredibly inappropriate” (April 26, 2022).
Presumably, at least some Twitterati wouldn’t like the proposed new management at all. Stay tuned.
You may also wish to read: Will Musk’s Twitter bid — win or lose — damage Twitter’s power? Stirring the pot, Musk recently slammed current media’s marked disinterest in who teen sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s prominent clients were… Just airing the “how many bots?” issue could greatly reduce public fear of Twitter’s legendary, career-nuking hatestorms. What if they’re mostly bots?