Facebook Follower Numbers Mysteriously Drop Across U.S. Publisher Pages

A number of America's biggest media outlets recorded sudden drops in their Facebook follower counts on Monday and Tuesday, sparking speculation that the social media giant may have purged bot accounts.

Follower numbers for the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Hill, USA Today, New York Post and Newsweek all reduced on October 3 and 4, according to data from analytics platform CrowdTangle.

USA Today suffered the biggest fall, losing 13,723 followers on Monday and 11,392 on Tuesday.

The New York Times lost 6,225 followers on Monday and 4,944 on Tuesday.

Facebook logo on a phone in Paris
Facebook logo on the screen of an iPhone. The company purged 1.4 billion fake accounts from April to June. Chesnot/GETTY

On Monday the New York Post lost 8,200 followers, with another 4,378 going the following day.

The number of followers on the Washington Post's page fell by 5,804 on Monday, then another 4,337 on Tuesday.

In total, the seven publications lost 38,812 likes on Monday and 29,692 on Tuesday.

Newsweek has asked Facebook's owner Meta why this decline took place and whether it was down to fake bot accounts being deleted.

Between April and June 2022 Facebook took action against 1.4 billion suspected bot accounts, according to its Community Standards Enforcement Report. In the preceding three months, 1.6 billion "fake accounts" were terminated.

Facebook says on its Transparency Center pages: "Our goal is to remove as many fake accounts on Facebook as we can. These include accounts created with malicious intent to violate our policies and personal profiles created to represent a business, organization or non-human entity, such as a pet.

"We prioritize enforcement against fake accounts that seek to cause harm. Many of these accounts are used in spam campaigns and are financially motivated.

"We expect the number of accounts we action to vary over time due to the unpredictable nature of adversarial account creation. Our detection technology helps us block millions of attempts to create fake accounts every day and detect millions more, often within minutes after creation. We do not include blocked attempts in the metrics we report here."

From April to June this year, Facebook estimated that "fake accounts represented approximately 5 percent of our worldwide monthly active users."

In recent months a dispute over fake accounts has threatened to derail Elon Musk's $44 billion purchase of Twitter.

In May the Tesla CEO shared an audit that concluded half of President Joe Biden's Twitter followers were either spam or bot accounts. He tried to back away from the acquisition in July, but the social media company sued for breach of contract.

Musk's plan to buy Twitter is now back on, his lawyers said this week.