Twitter Faces Texas Investigation Over Number of Fake Accounts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wants to know if Twitter is falsely reporting the number of automated fake accounts.

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Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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Queenie Wong
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Twitter is facing more questions about the number of automated accounts on its platform.

James Martin/CNET

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday he's investigating whether Twitter falsely reported the number of automated fake accounts on its platform and violated a state law meant to protect consumers against false, misleading and deceptive business practices.

"Bot accounts can not only reduce the quality of users' experience on the platform but may also inflate the value of the company and the costs of doing business with it, thus directly harming Texas consumers and businesses," a press release from the Texas AG's office said. Bots are computer programs that can complete automated tasks such as follow users and retweet content.

The move underscores how Twitter is facing more pressure after Elon Musk struck a deal to purchase the influential social media site for $44 billion. Musk, who runs Tesla and Space X, has been pressing Twitter to provide more details about its estimates of fake and spam accounts on the platform. On Monday, Musk threatened to end the deal if he doesn't get the data he requested about these accounts. The deal, though, includes a $1 billion termination fee, so it won't be easy for Musk to walk away, according to an SEC filing on April 25.

In the first quarter of 2022, Twitter estimated that fewer than 5% of its 229 million daily users were false or spam accounts. Twitter has also said though in its quarterly earnings and annual report that the estimates may not accurately represent the actual number of fake or spam accounts and it could be higher.

Texas is looking into whether Twitter falsely reported the numbers and violated a law called the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The office said that about 20% of users could be bots but didn't cite where those estimates came from.

Paxton is asking Twitter to provide documents about its user data, including ones that describe or substantiate the method Twitter uses to calculate the number of spam and fake accounts on its platform by June 27. Twitter declined to comment on the investigation. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal tweeted in May that Twitter's estimates of spam and fake accounts are "based on multiple human reviews (in replicate) of thousands of accounts, that are sampled at random, consistently over time," from accounts Twitter counts as daily active users who can see ads. Estimating the number of these accounts, though, can be challenging.

"The hard challenge is that many accounts which look fake superficially -- are actually real people. And some of the spam accounts which are actually the most dangerous -- and cause the most harm to our users -- can look totally legitimate on the surface," Agrawal tweeted.