Former Twitter Engineer Exposes the Massive Problem of Fake Accounts

Seems the façade is starting to crumble all around us. I’m not being apocalyptic, but the news is filled with stories of icons of media, publishing, politics and finance being exposed for what they really are.

The latest is Twitter, which is now dealing with allegations from a former insider that they knowingly allowed a huge number of fake accounts to exist.

As D. B. Hebbard reports in Talking New Media, “Selina Wang of Bloomberg (right) talked to former Twitter employee Leslie Miley who confirmed much about what we know about Twitter: that has been more concerned with reporting user growth than tackling its fake account problems.”

That interview is causing shock waves in the industry – not just because of the fake accounts themselves, but because of their apparent connection to massive Russian and Ukrainian political influence.

“In early 2015, [Twitter employee Leslie Miley] discovered a vast amount of Twitter accounts with IP addresses in Russia and Ukraine,” writes Selina Wang in Bloomberg Technology.  “Miley, who was the company’s engineering manager of product safety and security at the time, said efforts to root out spam and manipulation on the platform were slowed down by the company’s growth team, which focused on increasing users and revenue.”

“Anything we would do that would slow down signups, delete accounts, or remove accounts had to go through the growth team,” Miley said. “They were more concerned with growth numbers than fake and compromised accounts.

“When I brought the information to my boss, the response was ‘stay in your lane. That’s not your role’,” Miley continued.

Interestingly, Miley, who was laid off in 2015, elected not to take Twitter’s severance package. He did this, according to Wang, so that he wouldn’t be restricted from talking about the company publicly after leaving. In my book, this is integrity speaking.

Meanwhile in Congressional hearings this week about Russian interference in U.S. elections, Twitter said more than 36,000 Russian-linked accounts were involved – including 3,000 accounts directly related to the Russian Internet Research Agency.

For their part, Twitter says they are now committed to cleaning up the mess. But that doesn’t give them a pass for knowingly allowing this situation to exist – and escalate into more than 1.4 million election-related Tweets.

The social platform has been struggling the past few years, and user growth is the one thing they need to keep Wall Street happy. So the financial motivation was certainly there to back up these allegations. According to Wang, Twitter insists that about 5% of their accounts are fake; outside research pins the number around 15%.

We are basically in a global conversation with bots, run by persons of dubious intent, while the people and brands we want to follow are denied to us by an increasingly censorial algorithm. Social media is not okay, and it’s about time the true extent of the issue is aired.