New Delhi: Beginning Thursday, Twitter will remove all accounts locked for suspicious activities from showing in the follower counts across profiles. Twitter has been locking fictitious accounts for bulk tweeting, posting large number of unsolicited replies, or sharing links with misleading information for some time, but the accounts continued to show as followers on the platform. Consequently, users with large follower counts may see a major drop in the number.

Late Wednesday, Vijaya Gadde, legal, policy, and trust and safety lead, Twitter, wrote in an official blog post: “In most cases, these 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."

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“I believe Twitter is a platform where a healthy debate should happen but bots and unverified accounts drive false narrative (a version of events that, while partly true, had been shaped to elicit strong negative emotion) which is more dangerous than fake news. How things are being said on Twitter have come into focus and needed to be addressed," said B.G. Mahesh, digital entrepreneur and founder of local language news portal OneIndia.com

Mahesh, who was a part of a team that ran BJP’s online campaign for 2014 elections, further added that in view of the upcoming elections, the measures Twitter is taking assume even more importance. “..as the platform can be used to misconstrue facts by unverified fake accounts," he said.

According to Gadde, removing fake followers is part of Twitter’s ongoing effort to build trust and encourage healthy conversation on the platform as follower count is one of the most visible features on the platform and often associated with the credibility of an account.

Fake followers are reportedly used by politicians, media personalities and brand ambassadors who want to influence public opinion or to make themselves look more influential.

“It’s a smart move by Twitter to clean up the field and ensure only legit active followers are reflected in one’s profile. In past few years because of menace of bots and fake accounts, brands trust on Twitter, as a media platform, has gone down by several notches. I think this decision is a starting point to restore the faith in the medium. Influencer marketing has become skewed towards reach hence the obsession with people who have large number of followers. We always suggest our clients that they should leverage influencers who have authority in their field and an active number of followers who engage with the influencer and not obsess over the followers count ," said Amaresh Godbole, managing director of Digitas India, the marketing and technology agency of Publicis Groupe.

A Twitter audit carried out in March 2018 by Twiplomacy, a platform that assists organisations and governments to improve their digital strategy, claims that more than 50% of followers of profiles of major leaders, including that of Modi, are likely to be fake.

A joint study by University of Southern California and Indiana University, published in March 2017, claims that there are more than 48 million bot-controlled accounts and 9-15% of tweets come from such accounts.

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