Home Technology Elon Musk vs Twitter: The Weird Number at the Heart of the Drama

Elon Musk vs Twitter: The Weird Number at the Heart of the Drama

Elon Musk vs Twitter: The Weird Number at the Heart of the Drama

As I listened to the lawyers representing Elon Musk and Twitter arguing about what documents should be provided today as part of legal discovery, I started to wonder if it’s possible to measure anything.

The arguments centered on a shaky user count: mDAUs, or “daily active users monetized.” It’s a non-standard measure – most social media companies use daily or monthly active users – that focuses on which users can see ads. But Twitter is a non-standard social media company!

Twitter is suing Musk for canceling a deal to buy the company for $44 billion. Part of Musk’s argument is that he was misled about the amount of spam and bots on the platform and therefore the deal cannot be closed. During today’s hearing, Musk’s lawyers claimed Twitter was plucking the documents the lawyers requested on mDAUs. Alex Spiro, Musk’s counsel, told court Musk wants to audit all Twitter accounts.

“We don’t have to take them at their word,” Spiro told the court. “We are allowed to question their process.” Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick, who oversees the case in Delaware’s Chancery Court, said she would consider the matter before adjourning the hearing.

I don’t know if mDAU is actually a good measure. But this hearing suggests that revelations from a Twitter whistleblower will shape Musk’s case, at least in terms of guiding Musk’s discovery.

Twitter’s former security chief Peiter “Mudge” Zatko – among other allegations – said Twitter’s method of measuring bots, fake accounts or spam is wrong. Zatko’s complaint suggested executives were offered bonuses of up to $10 million to increase user base. And so executives did that instead of removing bots.

It’s also true that Twitter admitted in April that it had overcharged for three years. This was not even the first time it had happened! The SEC is asking questions now!

How did mDAUs come about in the first place? Well, many of us watch tweets in places that aren’t Twitter. An example is on this website, where Twitter can’t show ads because it’s our ads, honey.

Getting worse! I don’t use Twitter’s website on my computer as my primary way to view Twitter. I’m using Tweetbot, which isn’t made by Twitter and doesn’t show ads. On mobile, the Twitter app is doing show me ads, but I don’t usually use Twitter on my phone, and frankly, I’m considering switching to Tweetbot there too. That’s how I am secure a daily active user, but I see far fewer ads than someone using Twitter’s website. How do you pay me?

That question is central to the arguments. The way mDAU is recorded is by randomly taking 9,000 Twitter accounts and manually rating them. They are then flagged as spam or bots or used to estimate how users see ads. Both private and public data are used for these calls. But because some data is not kept, it is difficult to monitor Twitter’s work. Twitter’s lawyer said a manual “brute force” review is possible, and would take about a week. Musk wants more data than that.

Musk’s lawyer claimed mDAU was made up to boost Twitter’s growth rates – no new criticism of mDAU, Incidentally. He also suggested that linking compensation to mDAU growth was a bad incentive. Twitter says mDAU is the preferred measurement; Musk says its use is essentially fraud.

There was one flaw in Musk’s lawyers’ arguments and it was a tweet from Elon Musk. “If Twitter just gives their method of sampling 100 accounts and how they are confirmed to be genuine, the deal should be on the original terms,” he said. He wrote. Twitter’s lawyers suggested that Twitter did indeed provide that method, his lawyer said in court.