Why the Twitter purge matters

Twitter purged millions of fake accounts from its platform last week.

Most of the stories about the Great Twitter Purge of 2018 focused on the millions of followers lost by celebrities and politicians like Justin Bieber and Barak Obama.

Singer Katy Perry took one of the biggest hits, losing more than 2.8 million followers in one day.

If you were here, you’d see a small tear rolling down my left cheek as I type this.

News organizations weren’t immune. CNN dropped 1 million followers, the New York Times lost a little more than 700,000.

Ironically, it was The New York Times who published an expose of a Florida-based firm that sold fake followers, likes and retweets, and other services to boost the social media profiles. It’s probably no surprise that those who purchased these fake accounts were celebrities and politicians.

By their own accounts, it was probably that New York Times investigation that got the purge ball rolling at Twitter, prompting calls for action from Congress and the Federal Trade Commission.

“Over the years, we’ve locked accounts when we detected sudden changes in account behavior,” said Vijaya Gadde, safety lead and Twitter’s director of legal, public policy and trust.

“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.”

For normal, noncelebrity-types like you and me, the hit was nominal, like a blip on the social media radar. In fact, most users lost an average of four followers.

Four. That’s it.

“We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation,” Gadde added.

And therein lies the real reason why this purge matters, the reason that gets buried in these stories about the millions of fake followers lost to people who didn’t need them anyway (i.e., Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, etc.).

The real reason: improved conversations, or more specifically, the steps Twitter is taking to improve our public conversations. It starts with dumping fake, locked accounts.

Your Twitter conversations are public. Anything Twitter does to make those conversations more civil and genuine should be viewed as a win.

“Our ongoing work to improve the health of conversations on Twitter encompasses all aspects of our service,” Gadde added.

Sure, the purge focused on followers, and not likes and retweets, because follower count is likely the most visible feature on Twitter, the feature most associated with credibility.

In other words, see someone with a million followers, and boom – instant credibility.

This is not to suggest that Bieber and Obama are any more or less credible now, only that the story is less about their loss of followers and more about our improved discourse on Twitter and, hopefully, elsewhere.

Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com

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