Elon Musk’s protracted bid to buy Twitter has taken a new turn, with the billionaire claiming he could seek a lower price for the platform due to the proportion of fake accounts that make up its user base.
“You can't pay the same price for something that is much worse than they claimed,” the Tesla and SpaceX founder told a conference on Monday.
Musk said he suspects spam accounts make up at least 20 percent of users, compared to Twitter’s official estimate of 5 percent.
On Friday, he said he had put his $44 billion (€42.05 billion) deal to buy Twitter on hold over the issue of fake accounts, and when asked at the conference if he could seek a different price, Musk said: "I mean, it's not out of the question".
"The more questions I ask, the more my concerns grow," he added speaking at the All-In Summit 2022 conference.
"They claim that they've got this complex methodology that only they can understand...It can't be some deep mystery that is, like, more complex than the human soul or something like that".
Twitter shares extended losses in late afternoon trading following Musk's comments, with the stock dropping more than 8 per cent at $37.39 (€35.73), lower than its level the day before Musk revealed his Twitter stake in early April.
Musk’s emoji reply to Twitter CEO
The issue is raising doubts that the billionaire entrepreneur will proceed with his acquisition of the company at the agreed price.
Twitter Chief Executive Officer Parag Agrawal tweeted earlier on Monday that internal estimates of spam accounts on the social media platform for the last four quarters were "well under 5 per cent," responding to days of criticism by Musk of the company's handling of fake accounts.
Twitter's estimate - which has stayed the same since 2013 - could not be reproduced externally given the need to use both public and private information to determine whether an account is spam, he added.
Musk responded to Agrawal's defence of the company's methodology by tweeting a poo emoji, a tweet which received more than 46,400 likes.
"So how do advertisers know what they're getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter," Musk wrote.
Musk has promised to change Twitter's content moderation practices, railing against decisions like the company's ban of former US president Donald Trump as overly aggressive while pledging to crack down on "spam bots" on the platform.
Musk has called for tests of random samples of Twitter users to identify bots. He also said, "there is some chance it might be over 90 percent of daily active users".
Independent researchers have estimated that anywhere from 9 percent to 15 per cent of the millions of Twitter profiles are bots.
Twitter does not currently require users to register using their real identities and expressly permits automated, parody and pseudonymous profiles on the service.