In a reaction to worries regarding bot activity, the SEC actively reviewed Twitter’s user base, as disclosed in new files recently made public in a Bloomberg report. Elon Musk expressed worries about the same user figures in the weeks prior to the assessment, and it appears that federal officials took Musk’s claims seriously. The review started days before Peiter “Mudge” Zatko’s comprehensive whistleblower report surfaced, even though it covers many of the same issues.
In a letter dated June 15th, the commission noted on Twitter, “We note your estimate that the average number of false or spam accounts during fiscal 2021 continues to represent fewer than 5% of mDAU.” The commission further disclosed that “To the extent material, please disclose the methodology used in calculating these figures and the underlying judgements and assumptions used by management.”
Seven days later, in response, Twitter provided a summary of the approach that roughly matched the company’s published comments. According to the statement, Twitter reviews hundreds of accounts from the mDAU sample at random once every three months and, when necessary, flags them for spam and platform manipulation.
It’s unclear if the SEC found this answer to be adequate. On July 27, Twitter released a fresh letter announcing the conclusion of the investigation. The statement said merely that the company and its management are accountable for the accuracy and appropriateness of their disclosures, regardless of any review, comments, action or absence of action by the staff.
Both Elon Musk’s brief takeover attempt and a recent whistleblower revelation have focused on Twitter’s peculiar system for calculating “monetizable daily active users” (or mDAU). In general, Twitter claims that evaluating the smaller sample enables it to more accurately track whether actual human users are seeing the advertisement space it sells on the network. But since no one outside of Twitter is aware of which accounts are part of the mDAU sample, it is very difficult for outsiders to verify Twitter’s statistics.
Peiter “Mudge” Zatko claimed in his whistleblower report that senior management was “concerned that if accurate measurements [of bot activity] ever became public, it would harm the image and valuation of the company.” He cited the mDAU system as a major contributor to the rise in bot activity on the platform.