FastCompany recently warned against the temptation of buying fake Twitter followers, pointing to a service called StatusPeople which can ferret out fakes. Says the article:
Do a quick Google search for “Mitt Romney Twitter Followers” and you’ll find dozens of articles discussing how his follower numbers grew suspiciously. Security firm Barracuda Labs created an infographic based on its research breaking down Romney’s newfound Twitter fame, sharing that one in four of Romney’s new Twitter accounts had never sent a single tweet. No matter how the presidential candidate got these new followers, it doesn’t look good from the outside (although his Faker Score is currently sitting pretty at just 12% of 839,719 followers).
FastCompany also reports that many of Obama’s Twitter fans are fake:
According to the app, Barack Obama’s Twitter audience is 41% fake, and 29% of the accounts who follow him are inactive. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s Twitter follower base is 12% fake and 30% of the accounts that follow him are inactive, according to the app.
There is a site called 140Elect, which noticed a suspicious jump in Romney’s Twitter follower count:
I’m not saying he bought them, but Romney’s follower stats have taken a sharp and sudden rise since Friday 5PM EST. Could it be a weekend blitz? Twitter noticed. Personally, I think this is too obvious for the Romney campaign to have done.
Romney’s campaign denied the charge:
Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign’s digital director, rejected accusations that the campaign was “buying” followers for Romney, who trails Barack Obama’s account by more than 16 million followers.
“We have reached out to Twitter to find out additional information regarding the rapid growth,” he told BuzzFeed.
While I think it’s interesting to know whose Twitter account has fake followers, ultimately it doesn’t prove much. A Twitter account can either be wide open and accept anyone as a follower or each follower can be individually approved by the account owner. Few use Twitter as a private account as that kind of defeats the utility of Twitter, so almost all accounts put no restrictions on who can follow them.
This means that if I’m a major public figure like the President, I have no way of knowing which followers are real and which are fake. Nor do I have any real way of restricting fake users. It’s also important to note that not only can’t the account owner control who follows him, the account owner has no way of preventing his enemies from paying the fee to pile on fake users in an attempt to embarrass the account owner.
In that respect, what 140 Elect blogger Zach Green says may be true. It’s possible that he’s had nothing to do with the legions of fake followers on his Twitter account.
I believe what is happening with Facebook is a bit different. I believe it’s clear that some rogue person or process is signing accounts up for Romney’s page. Has this agent (or whatever it is) been hired by Romney’s campaign, one of the many groups supportive of Romney, or by Obama’s campaign or the many groups supportive of Obama in an attempt to embarrass Romney?
If it were the latter I would have to say the strategy failed as the story has failed to attract much attention to date. I tweeted my previous blog post this morning and it has only been retweeted once. Reaching out to two different tech-savvy writers failed to elicit a response, though it is Saturday and they might be out enjoying the last days of summer (if not, they should be).
Thus, I’m leaning towards this being an effort on Romney’s or his supporters’ part to boost his Facebook numbers. Romney’s Facebook fans numbered 4.3 million only 9 days ago, 4.8 million just three days ago, and today he’s up to 5.1 million. Is that plausible to have earned almost a million more Facebook fans in a week? I’m not so sure.