Twitter earnings show more growth, despite bot questions

Twitter the service may be hugely influential, but Twitter the company still struggles.

James Martin/CNET

Twitter the company has always struggled to live up to the hype of Twitter the product.

It’s a world-changing service, whose instant communication has helped bring life to social and political movements like the Arab Spring, #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. It’s brought people to the front lines of some of the world’s most important stories. And it’s the communication service of choice for President Donald Trump.

But Twitter the company struggles to grow, both in terms of profits and in terms of users.

For the quarter ended March 31, Twitter counted 336 million users who logged in at least once a month, less than a sixth of the more than 2 billion that Facebook counts. And while Facebook continues growing, Twitter has struggled to maintain.

That’s led some people, like the analysts at Oppenheimer Equity Research, to declare in a March note to investors that even if Twitter regains user growth momentum and increased advertising, “Long-term utility” is “still unknown.”

Trying to reform

Twitter the company still faces fundamental questions about its service that some people believe could, if not addressed, undermine its service and ultimately drive people away.

One key concern is over bots, automated computer programs posing as real people to tweet and retweet messages in an effort to amplify everything from a supposed celebrity’s latest missive to divisive messages from Russian trolls. Twitter has said for years that it’s battling the problem, but an investigation published in January by The New York Times uncovered companies that make their money by inflating the number of followers for celebrities, business executives and even one of Twitter’s own board members. Twitter responded by purging millions of fake accounts.

It also still struggles with pervasive harassment some people experience on the platform. Twitter’s tried to find a fix for this too, prohibiting people from using offensive account names, stepping up enforcement of its rules, and making those rules more clear too. It’s even gone so far as to solicit ideas from its users about how best to promote and measure more-civil conversation.

“We made meaningful progress in our ongoing safety and information quality work in Q1, and we are continuing to invest in improving the quality of content and the overall health of the conversation on Twitter,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

In the meantime, Twitter’s business is chugging along. The company counted 8 cents per share in profits, after adjustments for items like stock-based competition, on revenue of $665 million. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected an adjusted income of 12 cents per share on more than $605 million in revenue.

The earnings news seemed to cheer investors. In premarket trading, Twitter shares were up better than 4 percent to about $31.76 a share.

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