By Katie Paul and Krystal Hu
(Reuters) -Elon Musk suggested that a lower price for Twitter Inc may be appropriate as he and CEO Parag Agrawal quarreled over the company‘s estimates of spam accounts on Monday, according to an attendee at a private conference where Musk was speaking.
Twitter shares extended losses in late afternoon trading following Musk’s comments, which came at a conference in Miami that was closed to the press.
Shares dropped more than 8% to close at $37.39, lower than their level the day before Musk revealed his Twitter stake in early April, sowing doubts that the billionaire entrepreneur would proceed with his $44 billion acquisition of the company at the agreed price.
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%,” responding to days of criticism by Musk of the company’s handling of phony 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, who on Friday said the deal was “temporarily on hold” pending information on spam accounts, responded to Agrawal’s defense of the company’s methodology with a poop emoji.
“So how do advertisers know what they’re getting for their money? This is fundamental to the financial health of Twitter,” Musk wrote.
Shortly after his tweets, Musk told the conference in Miami that he suspects bots – or automated accounts – make up about 20% to 25% of users, according to tweets by attendees.
Musk has pledged changes to Twitter’s content moderation practices, railing against decisions like the company’s ban of former 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, and said he has yet to see “any” analysis that shows spam accounts making up less than 5% of the user base.
Musk said on Sunday “there is some chance it might be over 90% of daily active users.”
Independent researchers have estimated that anywhere from 9% to 15% 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.
It does ban impersonation and spam, and penalizes accounts when the company determines their purpose is to “deceive or manipulate others” by engaging in scams, coordinating abuse campaigns or artificially inflating engagement.
(Reporting by Katie Paul in San Francisco and Krystal Hu in New YorkEditing by Kenneth Li, Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis)