Tesla CEO Elon Musk
Representational Image // The Summit 2013 – Picture by Dan Taylor / Heisenberg Media – http://www.heisenbergmedia.com

Is Musk getting cold feet ahead of the billion-dollar acquisition of Twitter? Or could he try to acquire the social media platform at a lower price? These may seem rather unlikely, especially if one considers the lengths the SpaceX and Tesla owner has gone over the past month.

Nonetheless, such speculations have been fuelled by Musk’s debate with Twitter CEO Parag Agarwal over something Musk is known to be critical of – spam bots.

These spam bots were the reason behind the Twitter deal being “put on hold” earlier.

In fact, Musk himself did not deny these and added fuel to the fire. Speaking at the All-In Summit 2022 conference, he said that acquiring Twitter at a lower price than what was originally proposed was not out of the question. Musk had agreed to take Twitter private for $44 billion earlier.

“You can’t pay the same price for something that is much worse than they claimed,” Musk said, adding that the more questions he asked, the more his concerns grew.

In response, Twitter’s shares fell below his offer price of $54.20 per share to dwindle to $37.39 per share, effectively erasing all the gains it made ever since Musk disclosed his stake of 9.2% in the platform.

Once again, bots – automated accounts – are at fault. In fact, they have sparked a debate between Musk and Agarwal. Musk’s concerns about the presence of fake accounts on the platform may indeed result in a lesser price and the shedding of more light on Twitter’s practices against bots.

Agarwal defended Twitter’s practice when it comes to spam accounts in a series of 13 tweets, claiming that the popular micro-blogging site suspended over half a million spam accounts daily and maintained that less than 5% of its monthly daily active users (DAUs) every quarter were spam accounts. Musk, on the other hand, claimed that he suspected that at least 20% of all Twitter accounts were fake.

This estimate, according to Agarwal, was based on “multiple human reviews (in replicate) of thousands of accounts, that are sampled at random, consistently over time,” from accounts they counted as mDAUs.

Agrawal also informed that the company had shared an overview of the estimation process with Musk a week ago and that they were “strongly incentivized” to detect and remove as much spam as they could. He added that they were sophisticated and hard to catch, and most bot campaigns used a combo of humans and automation.

The company’s estimate, according to him, has remained the same since 2013 and could not be reproduced externally given the need to use both public and private information to determine whether an account is spam or not.

In response, Musk replied with a poop emoji and asked, “So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter.”