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Twitter Follower Counts Go Haywire as Platform Strives to Solve Fake User Issue

© AP Photo / Matt Rourke, File / Twitter app on a mobile phone
Twitter app on a mobile phone - Sputnik International
The social platform subtracted millions of followers, then returned them, then cut them again. The reason behind the fluctuation is “fake” accounts used for artificial popularity boosts, the company says.

Twitter attempted once again on Friday to make follower counts more accurate, which has led to millions of "suspicious" followers being removed.

The social media platform is struggling to tackle its fake user problem, which is a major turn-off for investors and advertisers and has even sparked scrutiny from the US Congress, according to a report by Reuters.

The company's Friday move was made without any warning. All out of a sudden, pop star Katy Perry's account reportedly lost some 861,000 followers, according to social measurement firm Social Blade. Twitter's own official account lost 2.4 million followers.

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Earlier in July, Twitter announced it would stop counting "locked" users as followers. After that was implemented, at least seven different celebrities lost 2 million followers each. By October, however, many locked accounts were active again (often all it takes is a simple password reset), and, according to estimations of a dozen of different popular Twitter accounts, performed by Russian ad fraud researcher Social Puncher, approximately one-third of the lost followers returned.

This Friday, those returned followers disappeared again, Social Puncher reported.

In its statement, Twitter said Friday that they had discovered a bug "where some of these accounts were briefly added back, which led to misleading follower counts" for "very few accounts."

According to the statement, back in July, follower counts could have changed "more regularly" as the social media platform struggled to "identify and challenge problematic accounts." The follower counts going crazy has caught the attention of some prominent users, including US President Donald Trump and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Reuters reports.

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Some users reported another similar drop in follower count earlier in October, with many having their followers returned days later.

MarQuis Trill, a Los Angeles advertising producer, told Reuters that he actually bought 300,000 followers for $4,500 two years ago. This July, he lost some 2.2 million followers, but had gained about 30 percent back before Friday's purge.

"I didn't buy that many to be losing like that," he said in an interview.

Commenting on the issue, Twitter representatives said in an interview they believe "locked" accounts are being controlled by fraudsters who sell "followers" to artificially boost accounts' popularity. The company disclosed that they identify the accounts by some "hallmarks," which include certain profile details, fans and post counts.

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