Twitter’s attempts to fight abuse faced some backlash on Wednesday when conservative pundits complained their Twitter followers had been “purged” in a company crackdown of rule-breaking accounts.
Twitter’s general counsel Vijaya Gadde confirmed the crackdown, but said it had nothing to do with politics.
“Yesterday we took action against a number of accounts that we believe have violated our policies by creating new accounts after being suspended,” she said in a tweet. “This is a part of the work we’re doing every day to improve Twitter.”
We enforce our rules without political bias. We are committed to continuing these efforts to make Twitter better and everyone should expect continued visible impact of our work.
— Vijaya Gadde (@vijaya) February 21, 2018
The company hasn’t said how many accounts were taken down, but several conservative pundits including Fox News commentator Dan Bongino reported losing thousands of followers the night before. “The twitter purge is real,” he said.
On Wednesday, critics of the crackdown were tweeting the hastag #TwitterLockOut, and raising questions over whether the platform was censoring conservative voices.
I see twitter did some pruning overnight erasing followers. they snatched a bunch from me but I’m reading a lot if folks got hit much harder. who knows what their criteria is but hope it’s not just political
— Charles V Payne (@cvpayne) February 21, 2018
However, Twitter said the action was part of its ongoing work to identify suspicious accounts including those that might be bots. In recent months, the company has been taking a harder stance on abuse, amid concerns that the Russian government exploited the platform to influence the 2016 election.
Yesterday’s crackdown involved suspending the suspicious accounts or temporarily locking them down until the owners can provide a phone number. In either state, the Twitter accounts will be removed from follower counts, Vijaya said. “While it may be hard to see follower counts go down, these actions are making Twitter a better place for everyone,” she added.
The statements from Twitter probably won’t placate everyone. But some internet users have been happy to mock the whole controversy. “I’m sending out my#BotsandPrayers to all the bots who lost their digital lives in yesterday’s Twitter purge,” tweeted one user.
So twitter deleted a huge number of bot accounts tonight and those that lost followers are planning to sue the free service for their tremendous damages from losing followers that weren’t real claiming 1st amendment violations. ???????? #botsandprayers #TwitterLockOut
— Tim Rote (@timrote) February 21, 2018
On the same day, Twitter took another step to prevent bad actors from spreading propaganda by clamping down on developers who abuse the platform’s API. The company released a blog post, effectively warning the developer community to stop the tweet automation.
“Do not (and do not allow your users to) simultaneously post identical or substantially similar content to multiple accounts,” the post said. The same goes for likes, retweets or following someone over the platform. Developers are banned from spamming out the actions, Twitter said.
The company wrote the blog post as a guidance for developers on what it permits over the company’s API. Developers who fail to comply by March 23 can face the suspension of their accounts and applications.
The API abuse can produce a staggering amount of spam. Last month, Twitter revealed it had deleted over 220,000 applications responsible for over 2.2 billion “low-quality” tweets.