Twitter’s Sudden Profile Purge Is A Lesson For Brands

Twitter apparently suspended thousands of accounts overnight yesterday, in what is believed to be a purge of bot profiles with suspected ties to Russian influence.

Protests from predominantly conservative users sparked the hashtag #TwitterLockOut, who claimed their accounts were being “unfairly targeted” in the purge. According to Mashable, some accounts were inaccurately flagged as part of the purge, which forced some users to supply Twitter with a phone number to get back into their profiles. 

As of Wednesday morning, Twitter had not made a public statement addressing the suspensions.

Twitter has been aggressively trying to crack down on the influence of Russian troll accounts – an issue that has plagued the platform since the 2016 election season. In January, Twitter notified nearly 700,000 users they had interacted with accounts that may have ties to Russian influence. They later revised their numbers, revealing that nearly 1.4 million people were impacted.

Other concerns seems to be over the loss of followers –  or, more specifically, followers tied to fake profiles. For brands, this is a really important point. Sometimes, it’s not always about the quantity of followers you have, but the quality of those followers. What good are thousands of ‘fake’ followers, who aren’t making purchases?

Buying followers or interacting with influencers with large audiences has been common practice for companies who want to boost their visibility. A larger following could help get your brand out in front of new audiences, but it’s the truly engaged followers that are truly going to prove ROI. As we’ve written about before, bigger may give you a boost, but it may not always be better for your bottom line.

There is also a risk of brand association if ‘troll’ bots who may follow your account go viral with discussions that may not align with your company mission. Consumers are more inclined to associate with brands who share their same beliefs. You don’t want to end up doing damage control for your brand image, especially with a fake account that doesn’t even have a real person behind it.

It’s a tough time for brands to navigate these muddy waters that cloud the social media landscape – a terrain that’s littered with fake news and questionable sources. Facebook’s been faced with their own set of challenges…

Twitter’s bot/brand safety problem pales into comparison with Facebook’s. The tremors from the 2016 election earthquake continue to shake Zuckerberg’s platform – most recently with executive Rob Goldman apologizing for stumbling into the discussion of Mueller’s recent indictments with misleading Twitter commentary.  But just this week, a whole new front opened up as the scale of obviously fake reports attacking Parkland High School students became clear.

In a series of tweets yesterday, NBC News’ head of social, Micah Grimes, showed how the “crackpot theory” that some students speaking out about the shooting are, in fact, “actors” went viral on the social platform. One Facebook update to that effect had (then) over 140,000 shares. Another had over almost 50,000 (and counting). Searching Facebook for the term “crisis actors,” Grimes observed, showed just how pervasive this false story had immediately become. It’s not just Facebook, of course. One YouTube video, characterizing the shooting as a “classic false flag operation” – like Sandy Hook – had over 160,000 views.

As Recode said, covering the story, it’s this kind of thing which makes social media “feel like such an ugly and discouraging place.” And the last thing brand marketers need is to be tracking whether their messaging is showing up alongside untruths about schoolchildren who just survived a shooting in which some of their friends died. The “crisis actor” claims may be idiotic (as Senator Marc Rubio has said), but look how they spread.

Facebook, of course, rests content in its claim that it’s not a publisher, and that “Freedom means you don’t have to ask for permission first, and by default you can say what you want” (Mark Zuckerberg). One thing is clear. Whatever controls it claimed to have in place to guard against fake news aren’t working.–Kim Davis

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