Twitter Can't Shake Advertiser's Suit Over 'Bot' Accounts

Twitter must face claims it wrongly charged an advertiser for interactions with bot accounts, a federal judge ruled this week.

The ruling, issued Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer in the Northern District of California, stemmed from a class-action complaint brought by the Conway, Arkansas-based dotStrategy, which operates the “.buzz” domain registry.

dotStrategy alleged it spent $2,220 advertising on Twitter between October 2013 and December 2016.

dotStrategy alleged in its lawsuit that it lost 480, or around 17%, of its followers, after Twitter purged its platform of 70 million “fake” and bot-operated accounts in mid-2018.

The Arkansas company said in an amended complaint brought in March that it was unable to determine which of the 480 lost followers was “fake,” but added that “the data strongly suggests that many of these followers were fake accounts.”

The company used the term “fake account” to refer to accounts operated by bots, as well as other types of problematic accounts.

dotStrategy claimed Twitter violated a California law regarding deceptive business practices by misrepresenting “that it would deliver ads to genuine followers,” while failing to disclose it was “charging advertisers for engagements with fake accounts to maximize its own ad revenue.”

Twitter urged Breyer to dismiss the lawsuit at an early stage for several reasons, including that the allegations regarding “fake” accounts were vague.

Breyer ruled that dotStrategy could proceed with claims regarding “bot” accounts, but not with claims for “fake” accounts controlled by humans.

He ruled that the allegations, if true, made out a plausible case that “at least some of the 480 deleted accounts must have been bots, that dotStrategy most likely paid for interactions with some of those bots, and that Twitter failed to reimburse the money paid for those interactions despite knowing they involved automated accounts.”

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