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Twitter’s CEO and Elon Musk are beefing over bot counts

Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal is pushing back against Elon Musk’s concerns around spam and bots on the platform, saying that Musk’s suggestion to measure the problem by performing a random sampling of 100 accounts wouldn’t work. “Our actual internal estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5 percent,” Agrawal wrote on Twitter today. His defense comes after Musk suddenly sprinkled some doubt on his $44 billion agreement to buy Twitter by tweeting that the deal was “temporarily on hold” over spam concerns.

According to Musk, the hold was put in place pending details to support the service’s estimate that less than 5 percent of its measured daily active users are bots or spam accounts. Specifically who needed to be convinced, and why, was left unclear, and the price of the company’s shares dived amid the confusion.

While Musk has not shared any more about the status of the deal beyond tweeting that he’s “still committed” to the acquisition, Agrawal went on to say, “We shared an overview of the estimation process with Elon a week ago and look forward to continuing the conversation with him, and all of you.” He said the company doesn’t believe estimates can be performed externally, since even understanding which accounts Twitter counts in its monthly Daily Active Users report requires private information.

Musk’s response to Agrawal’s tweet was a single emoji.

Among the reasons Agrawal says monitoring for spam and bot activity is so difficult is that many accounts run by real people “look fake superficially.” One thing his thread didn’t mention, however, is that just a month ago, for the second time in its history, Twitter admitted it has been overcounting active users for years.

Musk went into more detail about why this estimate matters, saying, “So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter.” Elon, notably, has reportedly told investors he wants to change Twitter so that it doesn’t rely on advertising money for most of its revenue and instead gets more income from subscriptions.

Our actual internal estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5% – based on the methodology outlined above. The error margins on our estimates give us confidence in our public statements each quarter.

— Parag Agrawal (@paraga) May 16, 2022

Speculation following Musk’s Friday morning tweet ran wild, with some suggesting his goal was to complete the deal at a lower price or perhaps try to find a way to walk away from it completely with a $1 billion breakup fee. Whatever the holdup and the ultimate goal are, Agrawal — who fired two top executives the day before Musk’s surprising tweet and said “we need to be prepared for all scenarios” — appears ready to stand behind the company’s reported numbers.

There are LOTS of details that are very important underneath this high-level description. We shared an overview of the estimation process with Elon a week ago and look forward to continuing the conversation with him, and all of you.

— Parag Agrawal (@paraga) May 16, 2022

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