twitter purges bots & fake newsPR and marketing professionals involved in influencer marketing will probably re-evaluate their influencer partners following Twitter’s recent purge of fake accounts.

Twitter has been on a long-term mission to remove fake accounts, harassment, and fake news from its network. Most recently, it announced it will remove locked accounts from all follower counts.

Twitter locks accounts when its software detects suspicious behavior, such as tweeting a large volume of unsolicited replies or mentions, or tweeting misleading links. It also locks accounts suspected of being hijacked by bots or at risk of being hacked. Twitter sends an e-mail to accounts owners to ask them to validate their personal information and reset passwords.

Typical Twitter users will see only a minor impact on their follower numbers, but major brands and social media influencers with large followings could see a substantial drop — some much more than others, possibly in the hundreds of thousands. Some influencers purchase followers to boost their perceived importance and win greater advertising deals from gullible brands. Those accounts are likely to see the largest drops in followers – a telltale sign to marketers that the account may be involved in the hanky-panky of artificially inflating follower counts.

Follower numbers have long been a controversial metric. Some deride it as a vanity metric. Still, most PR and marketing pros use follower counts to judge the reach of influencers.

“Many influencers have built genuine audiences through high-quality content, and they shouldn’t have much to worry about,” says HubSpot Vice President of Marketing Jon Dick. “The rest … watch out.”

Ongoing Effort to Counter Bots & Fake News

The move represents the latest in Twitter’s effort to suspend bogus accounts and combat fake news. According to The Washington Post, the network has suspended more than a million accounts a day in recent months to slow the flow of false news. It suspended more than 70 million accounts in May and June. The popular app continued that pace this month.

Twitter has been criticized for allowing and enabling bots, trolls and other accounts used to amplify fake news and misinformation, especially after allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. While commendable, Twitter’s purge crimped its user growth and raised questions about the real number of legitimate users.

Leading executives and PR professionals have urged social media networks to do more to control trolls, spam and fake news. Unilever CMO Keith Weed, who urged businesses to unite to combat fraud in influencer marketing last month, welcomed the purge of locked accounts, reported Campaign.

Weed urged the industry to improve transparency and measurement in influencer marketing, and said Unilever, one of the largest online advertisers, will favor online platforms and publishers that help eradicate unethical practices.

“There are lots of great influencers out there, but there are a few bad apples spoiling the barrel and the trouble is, everyone goes down once the trust is undermined,” Weed told Reuters.

The Source of Bots & Fake News

It’s not clear how much the purge of bot accounts will improve the network’s overall health or limit fake news. Most misinformation originates from fake news websites that will seek to evade Twitter’s bot-detecting algorithms. More than 2,000 identified fake news sites churn out various forms of false information.

Savvy brands and PR professionals responsible for protecting reputations will seek to monitor those fake news sites for mentions of their brands, products and other key terms. The Fake News Monitoring Service delivers timely email alerts to clients when a potentially image-damaging story in a fake news site mentions clients’ names or other keywords. That information enables organizations, well-known individuals or their PR agents to promptly rebut fake news reports.

Bottom Line: Twitter continues to battle bots, spam and fake news. The fight will likely be long-running and its ultimate outcome remains uncertain. Organizations and their PR agencies will need to monitor fake news publishers that promote their fictional stories on social media in order to safeguard their reputations.