Owning Twitter is tricky because the platform is under regulatory scrutiny and embroiled in a debate over free speech online. Its business has also struggled, especially in a competitive digital advertising market. After Mr. Musk sealed the acquisition deal, Twitter reported first-quarter revenue growth of 16%, below the 20% he had predicted.
A few weeks later, Mr. Musk tweeted that the deal was on hold, saying he wanted more details on the volume of spam and fake accounts. At one point, he said getting a deal for Twitter at a lower price was “not out of the question.” He also responded to tweets from Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief executive, who posted details on how the company detects and combats spam, with a poo emoji.
Behind the scenes, Twitter continued to give Mr. Musk and his team access to information on its platform, people with knowledge of the situation said. Last month, the company agreed to allow Mr. Musk direct access to its “firehose”, the daily feed of millions of tweets that circulate on the company’s network. Twitter, which said about 5% of its accounts were spam since it was first published in 2013, also said that number was an estimate.
Even so, the number of fake accounts remained a concern for Mr. Musk. For years before proposing the acquisition, he complained about spam on Twitter and said the company should do more to authenticate its users. In 2020, he appeared at an employee event on Twitter and said the company should be doing more to prevent spam.
Last month, in a six-paragraph letter, Mr Musk’s lawyers demanded more information from Twitter about its methods of counting fake accounts and claimed the company was ‘actively resisting and frustrating’ his rights . The company was “refusing requests for data from Mr. Musk” to disclose the number of fake accounts on its platform, they said. This amounted to a “manifest material breach” of the agreement, the lawyers continued, saying it gave Mr Musk the right to break the agreement.
Twitter said on Thursday it stepped up efforts to detect and block spam after Russia used fake accounts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The company added new requirements to its sign-up process and said it had used human auditors to verify its tally of spam accounts. It also said it deletes a million spam accounts every day and locks millions more every week until the operators of the accounts pass anti-spam tests.