Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is investigating fake accounts on Twitter for potential violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, expanding the Lone Star State’s push to look under the hood of the prominent social media platform to learn how it operates.
Inauthentic accounts at Twitter have received fresh scrutiny in recent weeks, as billionaire Elon Musk has expressed reservations about his looming acquisition of the platform in light of the number of automated and anonymous accounts potentially representing a greater share of users than the company has suggested.
Mr. Paxton issued a civil investigative demand to Twitter this week to determine whether Twitter has made a false claim about its users that could violate Texas law.
“Texans rely on Twitter’s public statements that nearly all its users are real people. It matters not only for regular Twitter users, but also Texas businesses and advertisers who use Twitter for their livelihoods,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement. “If Twitter is misrepresenting how many accounts are fake to drive up their revenue, I have a duty to protect Texans.”
Twitter declined to comment Tuesday on Mr. Paxton’s new investigation. Last month, the company acknowledged in a regulatory filing that it faces challenges measuring its users and engagement and said its numbers may differ from outsiders because of the various methodologies employed.
Mr. Musk’s lawyer said Monday in a letter to Twitter that the Tesla CEO believes the company was “actively resisting and thwarting his information rights (and the company’s corresponding obligations) under the merger agreement” by not sharing data about fake accounts on the platform.
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Mr. Musk has previously said on Twitter that he estimates the number of fake accounts could exceed 20% of the platform’s users while the company has portrayed the number as far smaller to him.
Mr. Paxton’s new effort to ascertain data from Twitter is the latest skirmish in a lengthy legal battle involving his probe of the company’s operations.
Last year, Mr. Paxton issued a civil investigative demand involving Twitter’s censorship practices governed by the company’s content moderation policies.
Twitter subsequently sued in federal court and claimed that responding would reveal confidential information and it accused Mr. Paxton of retaliation for the platform’s decision to ban former President Donald Trump.
The company asked a federal judge to block Mr. Paxton’s investigation, and a federal appeals court demurred in March. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said Twitter’s case was not ready for a judicial decision and noted that Mr. Paxton had not yet made an allegation against Twitter.
Mr. Paxton’s civil investigative demand issued this week requests answers from Twitter by June 27.