Peiter Zatko’s whistleblowing Twitter report may not help Musk

27 August 2022

Earlier this week a whistleblower complaint to the United States Congress made by Peiter Zatko, who was head of security at Twitter until his departure in January, was made public. Some commentators saw Zatko’s report as a damning insight to the management of the social media service, which supported Elon Musk’s decision to abandon his takeover bid for the social networking service:

The disclosure, sent last month to Congress and federal agencies, paints a picture of a chaotic and reckless environment at a mismanaged company that allows too many of its staff access to the platform’s central controls and most sensitive information without adequate oversight. It also alleges that some of the company’s senior-most executives have been trying to cover up Twitter’s serious vulnerabilities, and that one or more current employees may be working for a foreign intelligence service.

Mike Masnick, writing for Techdirt, in a detailed analysis of Zatko’s complaint, suggests the report in fact backs Twitter’s position, and may not be the legal leg-up Musk is seeking. Musk, who claims Twitter did not reveal the true extent of spam accounts on the platform, launched legal proceedings against the company in July.

But, as Masnick points out, Musk’s lawsuit has nothing to do with spam accounts on Twitter:

The first and most important thing to remember is that, even as Musk insists otherwise, the Twitter lawsuit is not about spam. It just is not. I’m not going to repeat everything in that earlier story explaining why not, so if you haven’t read that yet, please do. But the core of it is that Musk needed an escape hatch from the deal he didn’t want to consummate and the best his lawyers could come up with was to claim that Twitter was being misleading in its SEC reporting regarding spam. (As an aside, there is very strong evidence that Musk didn’t care at all about the SEC filings until he suddenly needed an escape hatch, and certainly didn’t rely on them).

Musk insists Twitter claimed only five-percent of accounts on the platform were spam or fake. But the five-percent number derives from so-called mDAU accounts, being monetizable daily average users, which Twitter defines as a “valid user account that might click through ads and actually buy a product”. The mDAU accounts sound like a rarefied group of members, but the spam count only applied to them, not the platform as a whole.

Except it’s Musk here who is using clever wordplay to distract and mislead everyone. As we’ve described over and over again, the 5% number that Musk repeats in these screenshots is about mDAU. The 5% number is what Twitter reports is the amount of spam they believe incorrectly gets counted in mDAU. It’s Musk who keeps pretending the 5% number implies spam across the entire platform, which Twitter has never said it does. As we’ve explained multiple times now, Musk is trying to distract by pretending that the 5% claim is about spam on the entire platform. It never has been. It has always been an estimate of the amount that makes it through and is still counted in the mDAU. That is clear to anyone who’s actually read Twitter’s filing (both in the Chancery Court and at the SEC).

Masnick’s article is a longer piece, but well worth the read for anyone with an interest in Musk vs Twitter.

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