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Do spam bots really comprise under 5% of Twitter users? Elon Musk wants to know

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An image of Elon Musk is seen on a smartphone placed on printed Twitter logos in this picture illustration taken April 28, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Sheila Dang, Katie Paul and Dawn Chmielewski

(Reuters) – Since 2013, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) has downplayed the spread of fake accounts on its platform, holding that “false or spam” accounts make up less than 5% of its user base even as independent researchers said the number could be three times higher.

That discrepancy could now affect the outcome of Elon Musk’s $44 billion cash deal after the billionaire tweeted on Friday that the takeover bid was “temporarily on hold” while he sought information about the number of phony Twitter accounts.

While this may be little more than a negotiating tactic by Musk, what is clear is that almost nothing is certain when it comes to how these accounts are defined or dispensed with, according to current employees and independent social media researchers.

The social media platform said in a May 2 public filing that fewer than 5% of its 229 million daily active users who are targeted with advertising are “false or spam” based on an internal review of a sample of its accounts. It did not specify how that figure accounted for the automated, parody and pseudonymous profiles permitted on the platform.

Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.

Researchers estimate that anywhere from 9% to 15% of the millions of Twitter profiles are automated accounts, or bots, based on one early study, from 2017, and more recent research from a firm that monitors online conversations.

“They have underestimated that number,” said Dan Brahmy, CEO of the Israeli tech company Cyabra that uses machine learning to identify fake accounts.

Cyabra estimates the percentage of inauthentic Twitter profiles at 13.7%.

Questions about the role bots play in spreading misinformation have dogged all social media platforms since 2016, when Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s candidacy and harm his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Meta, which owns competitor platforms Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Instagram, likewise estimates that fake accounts represent about 5% of monthly active users on Facebook, according to its most recent data from the fourth quarter of 2021. Meta also estimates that about 11% are “duplicate” accounts in which a single user maintains more than one account, a practice considered acceptable on Twitter.

Twitter’s rules do bar impersonation and spam, meaning “fake” accounts are banned if the company determines that their purpose is to “deceive or manipulate others” by, for example, engaging in scams, coordinating abuse campaigns or artificially inflating engagement.

CLEARING OUT SPAM

Over the years, Twitter has invested in clearing out spam accounts. In 2018, Twitter acquired a company called Smyte, which specialized in spam prevention, safety and security. Twitter removed “spammy and suspicious accounts” in a effort to improve the health of the platform, which caused its user base to drop by 1 million in July 2018 and its stock to tumble.

Researcher Filippo Menczer from Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media said Twitter has gotten more aggressive at taking down these types of inauthentic accounts, though the nature of the threat is evolving and harder to quantify.

“Manipulation has also become more sophisticated,” with coordinated networks and so-called cyborg accounts controlled by both humans and software, Menczer said, adding that these bad actors can “flood the network and then delete their content to evade detection.”

Even if the numbers are actually small, bots can have an outsized impact, and a handful can have major influence in shaping online conversation, according to researchers.

One Carnegie Mellon University study analyzing the spread of COVID-19 falsehoods in 2020 found that of the top 50 influential retweeters, 82% were bots.

Inside Twitter, the measurement and detection of false or spam accounts is a complex problem that is not well defined or understood by many of the company’s own employees, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Twitter uses varying metrics and definitions to measure such accounts, which are also dependent on the company’s accuracy in detecting content that constitutes spam, one of those sources said. It also is challenged in its ability to accurately estimate the number of fake and spam accounts – and new accounts are always being created, the source said.

“Metric and data transparency at Twitter has been abysmal forever,” said another source, blaming disorganized management. “Plausible deniability has been the safest route for Twitter leadership.”

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U.S. lodges third labor complaint in Mexico, on behalf of Panasonic workers

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A logo of Panasonic Corp is pictured at the CEATEC JAPAN 2017 (Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies) at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan, October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

By Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -U.S. labor officials on Wednesday asked Mexico to probe whether workers at a Panasonic (OTC:PCRFY) auto parts factory were denied their rights, marking the third U.S. labor complaint under a new trade deal that aims to improve workplace conditions in Mexico.

The request from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) follows a petition from a Mexican union asking the U.S. government to probe a Panasonic plant in the northern border city of Reynosa, alleging violations of the 2020 United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a letter to Mexico’s Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier that the agency was concerned workers at Panasonic Automotive Systems de Mexico were being denied rights to free association and collective bargaining, in breach of the USMCA.

Panasonic Corp of North America said it “respects and supports” those rights and that it did not believe they had been denied. The unit of the Japanese conglomerate added it would cooperate with Mexican authorities.

Tai noted that previous USMCA labor complaints – one targeting automaker General Motors (NYSE:GM) and another against auto parts plant Tridonex – led to worker benefits.

The U.S. government reached agreements with both companies without imposing USMCA sanctions, which can include revoking tariff-free status.

“When concerns arise, we will work swiftly to stand up for workers on both sides of the border,” Tai said in a statement.

The Mexican government has 10 days to decide whether to conduct a review. The economy and labor ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

The Mexican union that requested the inquiry, SNITIS, accused Panasonic of signing a union contract behind workers’ backs and of firing several dozen employees who protested. Days after submitting the petition last month, SNITIS won a sweeping vote to become the plant’s new labor representation.

U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, a Democrat, called for Panasonic to enter negotiations with SNITIS in good faith, and applauded the USTR complaint.

“Improving labor conditions is absolutely needed to ensure jobs here at home are not being undermined,” he said.

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Cisco shares slump as China lockdowns, Ukraine crisis hit outlook

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Cisco Systems logo is seen as part of a display at the Microsoft Ignite technology conference in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

(Reuters) -Cisco Systems Inc cut its full-year earnings forecast on Wednesday after COVID lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine dragged sales below estimates in the third quarter, sending shares down 13% in extended trading.

It also said fourth-quarter revenue would decline by 1% to 5.5%, becoming the latest U.S. company to outline a hit from Beijing’s “Zero COVID” policy that has worsened supply-chain snags and hurt demand amid rising inflation.

Executives from the company flagged severe component shortages over the coming quarters and said third-quarter revenue growth took a $200 million hit from ceasing operations in Russia and Belarus.

Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), which sells networking equipment and software to connect devices to the internet, now expects revenue growth of 2% to 3% in fiscal 2022, compared with an earlier forecast of 5.5% to 6.5%.

Adjusted profit is estimated between $3.29 and $3.37 per share from $3.41 to $3.46 per share earlier.

“We believe that there’s going to be lots of competition for ports capacity, airport capacity,” finance chief Scott Herren told analysts.

“That, combined with the inbound efforts, trying to get raw materials back into the country, et cetera, we believe it’s going to be impossible for us to catch up on this issue in Q4.”

The dismal results pulled down shares of other networking firms in extended trading. Juniper Networks (NYSE:JNPR), F5, Arista Networks (NYSE:ANET) and Ciena (NYSE:CIEN) Corp dropped between 2.7% and 7%.

“This quarter strikes me as nothing more than a stubbed toe,” CFRA analyst Keith Snyder told Reuters.

“While guidance is disappointing, it is understandable given these headwinds. The revenue performance in the upcoming quarters is less dependent on demand and more dependent on supply availability.”

Cisco reported third-quarter adjusted profit of 87 cents on revenue of $12.8 billion, compared with expectations of 86 cents on revenue of $13.87 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

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Biden invokes Defense Production Act to increase infant formula supply

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Empty shelves show a shortage of baby formula at CVS in San Antonio, Texas, U.S. May 10, 2022. REUTERS/Kaylee Greenlee Beal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden took steps on Wednesday to address the shortage of infant formula in the United States, invoking the Defense Production Act to help manufacturers obtain the ingredients needed to ramp up supply, the White House said.

Biden also directed U.S. agencies to use Defense Department commercial aircraft to bring formula into the United States from overseas.

Baby formula aisles at U.S. supermarkets have been decimated since top U.S. manufacturer Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) in February recalled formulas after complaints of bacterial infections.

On Monday, Abbott said it had reached an agreement with the U.S. health regulator to resume production of baby formula at its Michigan plant, a major step toward resolving the nationwide shortage.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Biden noted that the industry should be producing more formula in the coming weeks and months.

“Imports of baby formula will serve as a bridge to this ramped-up production. Therefore I am requesting you take all appropriate measures available to get additional safe formula into the country immediately,” he said.

The White House said Biden was invoking the Defense Production Act to ensure manufacturers have the ingredients to make safe formula.

“The president is requiring suppliers to direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good,” the White House said.

In addition, he launched “Operation Fly Formula” to hasten imports of infant formula and get more formula to stores quickly.

Biden has directed HHS and USDA to use military commercial aircraft to pick up overseas infant formula that meets U.S. health and safety standards.

“Bypassing regular air freighting routes will speed up the importation and distribution of formula and serve as an immediate support as manufacturers continue to ramp up production,” the White House said.

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