Twitter responds to claims of lost followers, lockouts

Last Updated Feb 21, 2018 4:55 PM EST

Conservative and far-right Twitter users were furious Wednesday about the loss of thousands of followers, with influencers and partisans particularly inflamed by what they perceived to be a targeted action by the social platform, CNET reported. Some users also claimed they were locked out of their accounts.

But in a statement provided to CBS News, the social media giant said its "tools are apolitical" and that it enforces its rules "without political bias." Twitter periodically culls accounts that it deems suspicious or fake, such as those powered by automated bots.

"As part of our ongoing work in safety, we identify suspicious account behaviors that indicate automated activity or violations of our policies around having multiple accounts, or abuse," Twitter's statement said. "We also take action on any accounts we find that violate our terms of service, including asking account owners to confirm a phone number so we can confirm a human is behind it. That's why some people may be experiencing suspensions or locks."

"Note that when an account is locked and being challenged to provide a phone number, it is removed from follower counts until it provides a phone number," the statement said. "This is part of our ongoing, comprehensive efforts to make Twitter safer and healthier for everyone."

"It's long overdue," Brian Solis, an analyst with the Altimeter Group, said of the move to purge the bots. He told CNET, "Quite honestly, it's still not enough. It's a fraction of what Twitter needs to do."

"The bot problem is one of several problems for Twitter," he continued. "It's not promoting civil discourse. It's creating angst and chaos."

Twitter didn't provide details on the number of accounts affected. But some users, including white nationalist Richard Spencer, complained about losing hundreds of followers or more on the platform.

Using the social listening tool CrowdTangle, which pulls directly from Twitter's API, CNET also looked at overnight follower activity, finding that many popular accounts lost numerous followers.

The losses -- which users highlighted with the hashtag #TwitterLockOut -- didn't appear to be equally spread across the political spectrum. A list of progressive influencers on Twitter lacked the same drastic drop in followers, CNET reported.

Many later reported that previously locked accounts were unlocked and that follower counts were back on the rise.

Last month, entrepreneurs, athletes and celebrities were among those who had recently lost followers on TwitterThe New York Times reported. Accounts have disappeared as Twitter faces growing scrutiny about fake accounts and the shadowy firms that peddle fake followers.