To add to Twitter’s troubles, on Wednesday, a June letter from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was made public. In it, regulators asked Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal to account for how Twitter measures its daily user rate and combats spam bots.
Advertisers are concerned that the Musk saga is stalling Twitter’s work on long-standing problems, such as creating safety mechanisms that could keep brands from appearing near inappropriate content. For instance, Twitter is still in the preliminary phase of an audit of its brand safety standards through the Media Rating Council, a process the company started more than a year ago. “We’ve gone through a couple of pre-evaluations with Twitter,” said George Ivie, CEO and executive director of Media Rating Council. “But we have not progressed with an audit of really anything yet.”
The Media Rating Council is one of the industry bodies that can help analyze when a media platform abides by standards, like those around “brand safety.” MRC can certify when a service has guardrails that prevent brands from appearing near offensive material like hate speech and sexual content. The MRC also analyzes valid traffic and ad viewability standards, which are all subjects that are being dredged up in Musk’s mud-slinging against Twitter.
Advertisers are not so concerned with bots on Twitter, in terms of being worried about fake accounts forcing them to pay for media that was never actually seen. However, how a platform deals with bots says a lot about the overall health of that platform.
David Gunzareth, senior VP and associate director at MRC, said that digital platforms have to have good security mechanisms for their audits to even work. “A major piece of our auditing of all digital properties have to do with internal controls … we audit that hard,” Gunzareth said. Bots can interfere with advertisers' organic activity on social media. Brands often analyze platforms to understand consumer sentiment, which can be manipulated by bots. Also, if a platform has a reputation for mishandling bots, it can factor into advertisers' plans to spend with that platform.
Twitter’s spokesperson said that the company was making progress toward its plan to attain brand safety accreditation. The spokesperson also pointed to work that Twitter is doing with DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science, which are third-party firms that work with brands to measure media quality on digital platforms. Twitter will conduct brand safety reporting through those services, the spokesperson said.
So far, advertisers seem to be giving Twitter the benefit of the doubt, even though Musk has been attacking the company from every angle, including on its own platform, through his popular Twitter account. Musk has been trying to back out of a $44 billion deal to buy Twitter by promoting the alleged problem with bots. The two sides are set to face off in court in October. Twitter is trying to enforce the deal that Musk made to buy the company, but in the meantime, it has suffered a series of public relations setbacks as it has to defend the company against Musk.