The Industry

It’s Not Your Imagination. You Just Lost Some Twitter Followers.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey speaks at an event.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is trying to make the platform “healthier.”
Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images

Keep an eye on the number of people who follow you on Twitter this week. Unless your tweets are really good, that number is probably going to go down.

Twitter announced Wednesday that it is adjusting users’ follower counts to no longer include followers whose accounts have been locked. Twitter routinely locks accounts for suspicious activity, such as sending spam links or getting blocked by a large number of other users. That could mean the account got compromised somehow, and is no longer controlled by the person who created it. It stays locked until or unless the account’s original owner claims it and resets the password.

Twitter said the change is part of its ongoing push to clean up the platform and “improve the health of conversations.” Follower counts are “one of the most visible features on our service and often associated with account credibility,” Twitter said in an emailed statement. From its blog post announcing the change:

Most people will see a change of four followers or fewer; others with larger follower counts will experience a more significant drop. We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation.

The move comes shortly after the Washington Post reported that Twitter has been stepping up its campaign against fake accounts, bots, and trolls, suspending as many as 1 million accounts a day in recent months. So far, the latest change just affects users’ follower counts, not the retweet or like counts on a given tweet.

Locked accounts are different from fake accounts created as spam bots, Twitter clarified. “In most cases, [locked] accounts were created by real people but we cannot confirm that the original person who opened the account still has control and access to it.”

So why is this a big deal? In the scheme of things, it probably isn’t. Still, it could be interesting to see if any noteworthy accounts show an unusually large drop, which could suggest that they were buying followers to make themselves look more important.

More broadly, Twitter’s efforts to hide, discount, or otherwise diminish the impact of bogus accounts could help in the long run to disincentivize gaming its systems. Either that, or spammers and scammers will just find new ways to game them.