Elon Musk says Twitter deal “can not transfer ahead” till he has readability on bot counts

Musk’s plan to buy Twitter has worried policymakers around the world.

Joe Skipper | Reuters

Elon Musk has said his $44 billion purchase of Twitter will not go ahead until he has more clarity on how many accounts are fake.

Twitter, in a filing earlier this month, estimated that less than 5% of its monetizable daily active users in the first quarter were bots or spam accounts.

But Musk estimates that about 20% of accounts on Twitter are fake or spam accounts, and he worries the number could be even higher.

“My offer was based on Twitter’s SEC filings being accurate,” Musk tweeted early Tuesday morning. “Yesterday the CEO of Twitter publicly refused to provide <5% proof. This deal can't move forward until he does."

Shares of Twitter fell 2.22% in premarket trading on Tuesday. A spokesman for Twitter did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Musk said his team is conducting its own analysis of the number of fake accounts on the platform, but experts in social media, disinformation and statistical analysis say his proposed approach to further analysis is woefully lacking.

“To find out, my team will randomly sample 100 followers of @twitter,” Musk tweeted on Friday. “I invite others to repeat the same process and see what they discover.”

In subsequent tweets, he explained his methodology, adding: “Choose any account with a lot of followers” and “Ignore the first 1000 followers and then choose every 10th. I’m open to better ideas.”

Musk also said, without providing evidence, that he chose 100 as the sample size for his study because that’s the number Twitter uses to calculate numbers in their earnings reports.

“Any reasonable sampling process is fine. If many people independently get similar results for percentage of fake/spam/duplicate accounts, it will be meaningful. I chose 100 as the sample size number because Twitter uses it to calculate <5% fake/spam/duplicate."

Carl T. Bergstrom, a University of Washington professor who co-wrote a book designed to help people make sense of data and avoid falling for false claims online, told CNBC that the sample of a hundred followers included one individual Twitter accounts should not serve as “due diligence” for a $44 billion acquisition.

He said a sample size of 100 is far smaller than the norm for social media researchers studying similar topics and could lead to selection bias.

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz commented on the matter via his own Twitter account, noting that Musk’s approach is not truly random, uses too small a sample, and leaves room for massive error.

— Additional coverage by CNBC’s Lora Kolodny.

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