Business

Twitter shares hammered, as bad week in social media business gets worse

Twitter's stock plunged Friday after it reported a decline in its monthly users and warned that the number could fall further in the coming months.

Push for quality cuts into number of subscribers, chilling investors even as profit beats expectations

Twitter had 335 million monthly users in the quarter, below the 339 million Wall Street was expecting, and down slightly from 336 million in the first quarter. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Cracking down on hate, abuse and online trolls is also hurting Twitter's standing with investors.

The company's stock dropped more than 20.5 per cent to close at $34.12 US on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday after it reported a decline in its monthly users and warned that the number could fall further in the coming months.

The slide in share value came one day after Facebook lost 19 per cent of its value — its worst trading day since Facebook went public in 2012.

Twitter, like other social media platforms, says it's putting the "health" of its platform over user growth. That is apparently leaving investors hard pressed to decide what the biggest companies in the sector, which rely on user reach, are worth.

Twitter had 335 million monthly users in the second quarter, below the 339 million Wall Street was expecting, and down slightly from 336 million in the first quarter. That overshadowed strong monthly user growth of three per cent for the second quarter over the same period of the previous year.

The company warned its monthly user number could continue to fall in the "mid-single-digit millions" in the third quarter.

Long criticized for allowing hate, abuse and trolls to run rampant on its platform, Twitter has begun to crack down, banning accounts that violate its terms and making others less visible.

Twitter is attempting to rein in the worst offenders after years as one of the Wild West corners of the internet.

At the same time, it must convince people it's the go-to platform in social media, even though it is dwarfed by Facebook.

Facebook has more than 2.23 billion users, while its apps —  WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger — each have more than one billion.

Twitter reiterated Friday that it is trying "to invest in improving the health of the public conversation" on its platform, making the "long-term health" of its service a priority over short-term metrics such as user numbers.

As part of these efforts, Twitter said that as of May, its systems had identified and challenged more than nine million accounts per week that were potentially spam or automated, up from 6.4 million in December 2017. The company has previously disclosed these numbers.

A Washington Post report put the total number of suspended accounts in May and June at 70 million. The Associated Press also found that Twitter suspended 56 million such accounts in the last quarter of 2017.

Income rises

While Twitter maintains that most of these accounts were dormant and thus not counted in the monthly user figure, the company also warned that its cleanup efforts could affect its counted user base without giving specific numbers.

"We want people to feel safe freely expressing themselves and have launched new tools to address problem behaviours that distort and distract from the public conversation," chief executive officer Jack Dorsey said in a prepared statement.

Twitter's second-quarter net income rose to $100.1 million, compared with a loss last year during the same period. It was the company's third profit in a row and the third it has ever posted. Twitter reports in U.S. dollars.

On a per-share basis, the San Francisco company's net income was 13 cents, or 17 cents adjusted, in line with expectations, according to a poll by Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue for the quarter was $710.5 million, up 24 per cent and beating expectations of $696 million.

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