Your Twitter followers are about to plunge

If you’ve got a huge Twitter follower count like a certain White House occupant or other high-profile power users of the platform, you might see that number drop starting Thursday as part of a major crackdown on bots and other misuses of the service.

On Thursday, Twitter’s Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead Vijaya Gadde explained in a blog post what the company is about to embark on — essentially, a global removal of accounts that Twitter has locked from users’ follower counts.

“Over the years,” Gadde explains, “we’ve locked accounts when we detected sudden changes in account behavior. In these situations, we reach out to the owners of the accounts and unless they validate the account and reset their passwords, we keep them locked with no ability to log in. This week, we’ll be removing these locked accounts from follower counts across profiles globally. As a result, the number of followers displayed on many profiles may go down.”

For most people — those who, for example, don’t have a Twitter audience approaching the level of the Twitter-loving leader of the free world’s — they won’t see much of an impact. A change of four followers, maybe less. Others, Gadde adds, will see a “significant drop,” so it is fair to assume that has implications for tweeters with a much larger profile.

“We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation,” the blog post continues. “Though the most significant changes are happening in the next few days, follower counts may continue to change more regularly as part of our ongoing work to proactively identify and challenge problematic accounts.”

There’s a bit of nuance here in distinguishing this purge of locked accounts from bots. The latter, Twitter says, tend to be spammy from the get-go, are somewhat predictable and removed automatically on an ongoing basis. These locked accounts, in contrast, were created by real people, it’s just that Twitter can no longer confirm the original person who opened the account still controls it.

So, what causes the company to lock accounts? One thing is sudden changes in behavior, like tweeting a lot of misleading links or unsolicited replies and mentions, Gadde explains. And when an account is locked, it — of course — can’t Tweet or see ads.

This is part of a much wider effort aimed at regaining user trust in Twitter. And it comes in the wake of news in recent days that Twitter had deleted 70 million suspect accounts in May and June. As well as an investigation by The New York Times in January that found a small Florida company had sold fake followers to hundreds of thousands of users around the world — including models and actors.

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