Twitter Inc. on Wednesday enforced a crackdown on suspected bot accounts, suspending thousands of users violating its terms of service. And some conservatives claimed the company’s “#TwitterLockout” as deliberately political.
White nationalist Richard Spencer called the crackdown a “major purge,” after losing a handful of followers.
Pro-Trump host Bill Mitchell said he lost around 4,000 followers.
Both later said a mass demand to verify accounts with phone numbers gave them many of their followers back.
Conservative author Mark Pantano said his account was temporarily locked amid the crackdown on bot accounts. He called it an attack on conservatives under the guise of a bot purge.
Twitter didn’t confirm the number of suspended or locked accounts but said it would continue to identify “suspicious account behaviors” representing violations to its terms of service, including suspicious automated activity.
The company asked users to verify a phone number to “confirm a human is behind it,” the Washington Post reported.
“That’s why some people may be experiencing suspensions or locks,” Twitter spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement. “Note that when an account is locked and being challenged to provide a phone number, it is removed from follower counts until it provides a phone number. This is part of our ongoing, comprehensive efforts to make Twitter safer and healthier for everyone.”
The company is currently under national scrutiny following the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s indictment of 13 alleged members of Russia’s Internet Research Agency, which allegedly used bots to create chaos following the shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives.
But this isn’t the first time Twitter has been accused of making pro-Trump bot purges, the Verge reported. In 2016, Twitter briefly suspended USA Today columnist Glenn Reynolds over a tweet about the Charlotte, North Carolina, protests following the police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott.
Twitter, Facebook and Google are all also under increased scrutiny for becoming platforms for misleading and false information leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
According to the Washington Post, special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference, listed Twitter in a recent court complaint as “one of the main targets of a sophisticated and illegal propaganda operation run by a Kremlin-linked troll farm in St. Petersburg.”