CNBC Downplays Twitter Whistleblower Complaint, Guest Claims It's Good for Twitter

August 26th, 2022 3:43 PM

Just one day after whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko made bombshell claims that Twitter has been “lying” about its security practices, CNBC appeared to downplay Zatko’s complaint in an interview. The outlet gave a platform to a law professor who absurdly claimed Zatko “basically” agreed with Twitter on how it counts users. 

Andrew Ross Sorkin (left) and Prof. Ann Lipton (right)Squawk Box co-anchor Andrew Sorkin framed Zatko’s Twitter bashing as an inflated crisis: “This, in some ways, seemed like a bombshell,” Sorkin hedged. “Do we need to look at the bots the way Elon Musk is asking, or don’t we?” 

Sorkin editorialized despite Zatko making several apparent revelations earlier this week about how Twitter calculates the percentage of spam accounts versus regular accounts on its platform. Zatko directly stated in a letter to Congress that Twitter was “Lying about Bots to Elon Musk.”

Sorkin’s guest, Tulane law professor Ann Lipton, argued on the Aug. 24 Squawk Box that Zatko’s Twitter bashing was actually “good for Twitter.”

She apparently based her claims on Twitter’s monetizable daily active users (mDAU) figure.  “Musk’s headline claim for why he gets to walk away from the deal is that Twitter misstated its mDAU figure,” she said. “The interesting thing about this whistleblower is that he actually agrees with Twitter” that the mDAU number is “basically accurate and that they basically try to minimize the amount of spam within that figure.” 

Lipton seems to have cherry-picked a single phrase from Zatko’s redacted whistleblower complaint: “Twitter is already doing a decent job excluding spam bots and other worthless accounts from its calculation of mDAU.” But Lipton omitted the fact that Twitter’s mDAU calculation is designed to exclude spam bots. 

Zatko dug deeper into the mDAU calculation, writing that “Twitter starts with all the accounts on the platform,” automatically includes the humans, excludes “spam accounts,” and then estimates “the error rate of spam accounts that nevertheless slip through into mDAU.”  The rate of spam accounts included in Twitter’s mDAU figure is the percentage that Twitter alludes to when publicly discussing spam bots, rather than the overall percentage of spam accounts on the platform, Zatko’s complaint indicates.

Contrary to Lipton’s absurd argument, Zatko slammed  — and did not defend — Twitter in his complaint, saying that Tesla CEO Elon Musk “is correct” in claiming that Twitter executives “have little or no personal incentive to accurately ‘detect’ or measure the prevalence of spam bots.” 


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