Twitter is purging suspicious accounts from your follower count

A new approach to cybersecurity: Let the hackers in
A new approach to cybersecurity: Let the hackers in

Don't be surprised to see the number of people following you on Twitter drop this week.

The platform announced on Wednesday that tens of millions of accounts previously locked because of suspicious activity will be purged from its follower counts, a closely watched metric. The company says "most" people will lose "four followers or fewer," but prominent Twitter accounts "will experience a more significant drop."

The culling comes roughly six months after a New York Times investigation of a firm that sold millions of fake followers to customers eager to boost their stature and influence on Twitter (TWTR).

"We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation," Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's head of legal, policy and trust, wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

It's long been an open secret that numerous Twitter users rely on bogus accounts and bots to inflate their follower count, said Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. But mounting attention to the issue may have forced the company to address the problem and "boost their credibility."

That's particularly important for brands looking to drive sales to real followers, not fake ones. Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever, which owns brands like Dove and Axe, praised Twitter's move on Wednesday as a "great step forward which strengthens the industry."

Related: Twitter stock tanks on fears of fake account crackdown

The move, which Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced in a tweet, is part of a broader effort to safeguard the platform amid mounting scrutiny over the proliferation of trolls, fake news and disinformation on Twitter, Facebook (FB) and other platforms.

Trimming follower counts carries a risk, however. Conservative Twitter users lashed out at the company earlier this year after a previous purge cost them large numbers of followers. The culling also could lead to a decrease in user engagement. "The more followers you have on Twitter, the more likely you are to use Twitter," Berger says.

Wall Street is clearly anxious, too. Twitter stock tanked earlier this week over a report that the company had suspended more than 70 million accounts in its ongoing battle against misinformation and other abuse. The company later clarified that most of the suspended accounts were inactive and therefore would not affect its closely watched monthly active user metric.

Despite investor jitters, some say Twitter is an excellent position to make changes, given its recent profitability, expanding ad business and rising stock price.

"If there is a time to do it," says Daniel Ives, an analyst who tracks Twitter for GBH Insights, "now is the time."

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