Notebook > Technology
Krieg Barrie

Fake followers

Technology | Twitter is awash in fake accounts, undermining its credibility as a social status gauge

Issue: "Day of reckoning," June 14, 2014

Twitter, the social media platform where users compose messages of 140 characters or less, now hosts an impressive 1 billion user accounts. Whether half that many people are actually using the service is another question. 

A Twitter-tracking service called Twopcharts recently reported 44 percent of Twitter accounts have never composed a tweet. Around one-third of accounts have composed a total of 10 or fewer tweets, and only a quarter have tweeted within the past month.

Some of these accounts might be users who lost interest, but many are fake: Twitter is awash in dummy accounts created by computer bots and low-paid Asian workers. Unscrupulous businesses known as “click farms” in Bangladesh and Indonesia pay workers to sit behind computers creating fake Twitter accounts and “following” legitimate ones. They might earn $1 by following 1,000 accounts. (They’re also paid to “like” Facebook pages and drive up YouTube video views.)

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The click farm workers and other shady outfits get business through dozens of websites or eBay accounts that offer to boost Twitter followers for a fee. One of the more popular sites, Fast Followerz, advertises 100 followers for $9, or 10,000 for $99. It claims all those followers will be active Twitter accounts, solicited by promoting your account among Twitter users who share your interests or are willing to follow you in exchange for a “token,” or for you following them.

There’s nothing wrong with paying for advertising, but “buying” Twitter followers is generally considered unethical, especially if those followers aren’t genuine fans. It seems a dishonest way of pumping up your apparent clout and importance in the world of social media.

Some celebrities and politicians have been accused of buying followers. Mitt Romney’s Twitter account, currently boasting 1.56 million followers, added 100,000 during a single weekend in July 2012. His campaign denied they had bought those followers.

According to StatusPeople, a tool for checking fake Twitter accounts, 23 percent of Romney’s follower accounts appear fake, and another 54 percent are inactive. Of President Barack Obama’s 43 million Twitter followers, 36 percent appear fake, and 48 percent inactive.

Some popular figures may be magnets for click farm workers looking for celebrities to follow, whether those celebrities have paid for it or not. But as long as Twitter is filled with bogus accounts, it’s hard to take seriously a person’s number of followers as a sign of social status. Fake followers undermine the credibility both of Twitter users and of Twitter itself.

Quiet reading

PLATE AWAKENING: One of Vigilant Solutions’ license plate recognition cameras.
PRNewsFoto/Vigilant Solutions/AP
PLATE AWAKENING: One of Vigilant Solutions’ license plate recognition cameras.

A license plate tracking company has a condition for police departments that want to comb its database: You must remain silent. Vigilant Solutions runs a massive network that collects photographs of over 50 million license plates each month, including the date and location where they were spotted (often in big cities). Investigators can search the database to track the whereabouts of a suspect. 

But police aren’t allowed to talk to the media about the license plate database unless they get preapproval from Vigilant, a move apparently intended to stave off unflattering media attention and criticism from privacy advocates. Vigilant’s nondisclosure agreement said the restriction was meant, in part, to “protect Vigilant’s competitive interests and ensure consistency with other media messaging.” —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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