- Twitter says Elon Musk was presented weeks ago with his own analysis on “bots” or fake accounts.
- His chosen data firms found the bots to be around 5% to 11%, Twitter’s legal team said.
- Musk has claimed in the past that at least 20% of Twitter accounts are bots.
The day before Musk sent his first letter to Twitter executives terminating his agreement to acquire the company for $44 billion, two firms he hired to analyze massive Twitter user data reported their own estimates of bots on Twitter. The firm Cyabra told Musk it estimated Twitter to possibly have 11% bots or fake accounts. The other firm CounterAction said its analysis turned up 5.3% bots, lawyers for Twitter said during a hearing on Tuesday.
That’s very different from Musk’s estimates. He said in May on Twitter that fake or spam accounts on the platform could be “much” higher than 20%. In his termination letter, Musk said he was backing out of the deal because bots on the platform were “wildly higher” than the 5% estimate Twitter has disclosed publicly. Twitter has sued to force him to complete the acquisition and the case is heading to court in Delaware in October.
Both findings by Musk’s chosen firms are “very much in line with Twitter’s claims,” a lawyer for the company said. “None of these analyses remotely supported what Mr. Musk told the Twitter parties and told the world in the termination letter he served up on July 8.”
Twitter’s lawyer went on to accuse Musk’s legal team of intentionally withholding the data during the court battle, saying they had only just been able to view the documents as of Tuesday, despite seeking them since the early days of the lawsuit.
“If there are any analyses that exist that actually substantiate what Mr. Musk told Twitter and told the world, they certainly have not been produced in discovery in this case,” the attorney added during the hearing.
This may be a dicey argument because 11% bots is still significantly higher than Twitter’s own estimates. Musk’s legal team declined to comment.
Musk’s primary argument for ditching the deal has centered on his claims that Twitter intentionally misled him, investors and the public about the number of authentic accounts on its platform, or those operated by a single human user. Musk claims this amounts to fraud and allows him to walk away from the acquisition cost-free. Earlier this month, the billionaire amended his countersuit against Twitter to include new claims based on the whistleblower disclosure of a former security chief at the social media company, Pieter “Mudge” Zatko.
Among the new claims are that Twitter has not complied with a 2011 consent decree with the FTC regarding its data security and that it doesn’t hold proper intellectual property licenses for some important machine learning work. Musk now says that these issues also allow him to back out of the deal entirely. Legal experts are unconvinced that any of Musk’s claims are strong enough to win this case.
Twitter has said that it investigated and addressed all of Zatko’s claims when he raised them during his year working at the company, and it is now looking for any connection between Zatko and Musk or his advisors.
While speculation continues that an out-of-court settlement could happen between the two sides, the case is still scheduled for a five-day trial beginning Oct. 17.
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