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Twitter shares dip on investor concern that user growth may slow

Twitter CFO reassures investors its fake-account crackdown will not impact the numbers of active users
The Twitter mobile app
More than 70 million accounts were removed in May and June, and the rapid take-down accelerated in July

Shares of Twitter Inc. (NYSE:TWTR) fell Monday amid investor concern that the San Francisco-based social media company’s escalating fight against fake accounts will slow user growth.

Twitter, which had plunged more than 9%, rebounded in midday trade and was down 5% to US$44.19 after the Twitter CFO denied that the unprecedented takedown rate would impact user metrics for the second quarter.

The Washington Post, citing an unnamed source, said Friday that Twitter has been actively combatting fake and suspicious accounts in recent months, and the unprecedented takedown rate could impact user metrics for the second quarter.

“The rate of account suspensions, which Twitter confirmed to The Post, has more than doubled since October, when the company revealed under congressional pressure how Russia used fake accounts to interfere in the US presidential election,” reported The Washington Post.

The company has reportedly deleted over 70 million accounts in May and June and the rapid takedown has accelerated in July.

However, Twitter CFO Ned Segal clarified in a tweet Monday that "most accounts we remove are not included in our reported metrics as they have not been active on the platform for 30 days or more, or we catch them at sign up and they are never counted."

Twitter’s vice president for trust and safety Del Harvey also said the crackdown has not had “a ton of impact” on the numbers of active users because many of the problematic accounts were not tweeting regularly. Twitter currently has 336 million active users at the end of the first quarter.

Harvey, who commands a never-ending war between Twitter’s censors and a legion of Russian bots, sexual harassers, neo-Nazis, and hackers, said Twitter has chosen to shift from promoting all free speech to promoting the safety of its users.

READ: Twitter stock pops on news it’ll replace Monsanto in S&P 500

“One of the biggest shifts is in how we think about balancing free expression versus the potential for free expression to chill someone else’s speech,” said Twitter’s vice president for trust and safety Del Harvey. “Free expression doesn’t really mean much if people don’t feel safe.”

Analyst take

CNBC reported that analysts at Stifel concurred that the volume of fake account deletions were good for longer-term growth, but they raised uncertainty and “user volatility” on near-term user growth expectations.

"In our view, there is some risk of reported user volatility due to fake and automated account removal in the near term, though the continued purge of fake accounts is clear progress for the longer-term health of the platform," analysts for Stifel wrote in a note to clients.

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