Following the change on Friday, which removes from the count accounts that have been suspended or locked by Twitter for abuse, some of the most popular users had hundreds of thousands, or millions, fewer followers than they had a day before.
The biggest drops were reserved for those with the biggest followings. In the UK, for example, where all of the members of One Direction regularly rank in the top 10 most-followed accounts, Harry Styles lost 877,000 followers, bringing him to 32 million, and former bandmate Niall Horan lost 856,000, bringing him to 39 million. Adele, the most-followed British woman on Twitter, lost 928,000 followers to bring her to a shade under 28 million.
But accounts lost noticeably more followers if they had been popular on Twitter for a long time. That seems to explain discrepancies like Donald Trump (340,000 followers lost, bringing him to 53 million) and Barack Obama (2.3 million followers lost, bringing him to 101m); or Jeremy Corbyn (7,000 followers lost, bringing him down to 1.8 million) and Stephen Fry, one of the earliest celebrity adopters of the site, who lost almost 400,000 of his 13.3 million followers.
Fry noticed the absence. He tweeted:
Stephen Fry (@stephenfry)
What the heckfire? 400,000 followers expunged! At a stroke? Nearly half a million of my devoted adherents were BOTS? It explains so much. At least I can now relax in the knowledge that we scattered lonely survivors are the finest and fairest. We’ve lost the maniacs and trolls.July 13, 2018
When Twitter announced the crackdown, it said it expected to see the typical follower count drop by about 6%. The company locks accounts for various reasons, from spam detection or harassment, to the discovery that login credentials have been leaked on other sites.
While they were commonly referred to as bots, that was not always the case, said Vijaya Gadde, from Twitter’s trust and safety team. “In most cases, these accounts were created by real people, but we cannot confirm that the original person who opened the account still has control and access to it,” she said.
The rationale for the change was to restore an element of trust to a social network that has often struggled with that commodity. “Follower counts are a visible feature, and we want everyone to have confidence that the numbers are meaningful and accurate,” Gadde said.
Her stance was backed up by Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing officer and a strong critic of social media toxicity. “People having an artificially inflated follower count made up of bots and redundant accounts is at best deceiving and at worst fraud,” Weed said. “It serves no one and undermines trust in the entire system.”
And just to prove that no one’s immune, Twitter’s own account had 63 million followers on Wednesday. Now it’s down to just 55 million.