It all started a couple of days ago when one of us, a known twitter enthusiast, decided to look into the effect of Twitter’s new homepage on new user registration and engagement. The premise was that the new homepage, which launched on April 15th, will increase new users’ engagement as it was designed to help them find relevant content to start up their feed and Twitter experience. A quick Site Analysis using Jumpshot revealed that there was much more to the story than merely the new homepage design.

It was evident that something was happening to, or rather on, Twitter resulting in a 15% decrease in unique visitors and engagement throughout the last 4 months. March 3rd was the precise day that began this downward trend. That was the same the day Twitter started to require phone verification from new registrations using Tor browser. Up until that day only abusive users, or users that opted-in to Twitter’s 2-step verification process, were required to verify their phone number. From this day forward, phone verification has gradually become a requirement for new account creation.

Twitter Traffic and Engagement Change 2015


The Effect of Forced Phone Verification on Twitter: New Users Drop by 19%

We were intrigued, so we exported the Site Analysis report and started to investigate the raw data. We quickly found that Twitter’s registration confirmation page has been displayed to 19% less people since the social network started to impose un-skippable phone verification as part of the registration process.

New Registrations on Twitter, before and after required phone verification, 2015

Are these all internet trolls trying to create yet another Twitter account and hitting a brick wall, or is Twitter losing a significant amount of valid new users just because they are now forced to supply their phone number? The answer is probably a mixture of both, with the exact proportions yet to be determined.


Twitter Phone Verification Effect on Tor and Other Proxy Services

We quickly generated a Site Analysis report for Tor to understand how their traffic was affected from Twitter’s required phone verification. Since most of Tor’s traffic is download traffic we anticipated a drop in traffic, which is precisely what the data reported. We then decided to compare Tor to its competitors and see if they were also affected by Twitter’s change. We found that they all share the same traffic pattern, i.e diminished traffic from March 3rd, then a traffic peak on April 15th, and again in the early May.

Proxy Services Traffic 2015

We see a clear corresponding pattern of increase in traffic to proxy hiding services and Twitter’s gradual rollout of their phone verification requirement in order to create a user. It seems like as this requirement expanded globally, the traffic to proxy masking services increases, as people search for a solution to bypass the phone verification step. Unfortunately these services do not let you bypass the verification requirement as they are flagged by Twitter.

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