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In some ways, Twitter has become the world’s biggest (and worst) popularity contest. Actors, politicians, pundits, and bots vie for credibility with their follower count. The more popular the account, the more followers it has, and the more trusted and more visible its tweets. Follower counts can be misleading, however, and Twitter has been taking steps to make them more accurate.
Twitter has already been purging its social network of bots, spammers, and repeat trolls. It’s tightened down its account creation process to make it more difficult for those types of accounts to proliferate. On Wednesday, Twitter’s Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead, Vijaya Gadde, explained in a blog post that the app would now begin purging accounts of certain types of inactive followers, as well.
Twitter has regularly locked accounts when it detects “sudden changes in account behavior”—things that might indicate the account has been hacked, or is being used to distribute spam. When that happens, Twitter reaches out to the account owner to validate the account and reset their password. If that isn’t done, Twitter keeps the account locked. This week, Twitter began removing these locked accounts from user follower counts. It makes sense: these accounts are completely inactive, and thus aren’t real followers.
Twitter says that most people will only see a loss of roughly four followers, but the more followers you have, the more you stand to lose. (I, for example, previously had 18.4 thousand followers. So far, I’ve lost two to three hundred.)
A number of people took to tweeting about their follower count changes.
I lost about 200 followers!— Steve Kovach (@stevekovach) July 12, 2018
guess the new twitter update went through as i appear to have lost 1200 followers pic.twitter.com/N9wynGls7O— Shen Bapiro (@reiyashi) July 12, 2018
I lost 6K followers today because @twitter is removing blocked and bot accounts. I am actually super happy about it because I am all for real and accurate numbers. Plus I don't benefit from bots or blocked accounts following me.— AdELA (@adelamusic) July 12, 2018
Those who weren’t aware of the policy change were frustrated by their sudden follower count drop.
I HAVE LOST OVER 44K FOLLOWERS! HOW AND WHY?!😡— nico (@vezps) July 12, 2018
WTF!— VirtualAstro (@VirtualAstro) July 12, 2018
I’ve just lost over 4000 followers in less than an hour!!!
Has twitter broke or has it had the mother of all clear outs???
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey himself said he lost 200,000 followers.
(I lost 200k followers 👋🏼👋🏼👋🏼)— jack 🌍🌏🌎 (@jack) July 12, 2018
And in the first 15 minutes of Twitter engaging its purge, Donald Trump lost more than 100,000 followers.
Accounts will likely continue to see follower drops as Twitter continues with its “purge.”
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.