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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Twitter's Fake-Followers Problem

I wrote yesterday about the fact that the Internet as a whole has a lot of non-human traffic, while social media sites, in particular, have tons of bots, spammers, zombie accounts, and "fakes."

Six months or so ago, I began collecting some data of my own, using the Fake Followers app at http://www.socialbakers.com/twitter/fakefollowercheck/ (which is currently down for maintenance, unfortunately). There are many such apps online. I liked this one because it broke out Twitter followers into "suspicious," "inactive," and "good" categories. Suspicious accounts are ones that have no profile pic (just an egg), no bio, and/or no followers. Inactives are, of course, accounts that seldom, if ever, tweet; abandoned accounts, basically.

I ran the Fake Followers app on a bunch of popular accounts, including many popular authors and media accounts. Bear in mind, some of these numbers are six months old, and there is no guarantee as to accuracy, in any case; I'm relying on SocialBakers (makers of the Fake Followers app) to know what they're doing.

Account
% Suspicious
% Inactive
% Good
Followers
KasThomas
1
0
99
271K
InkMuse
3
2
95
104K
Contently
4
2
94
36K
KMWeiland
5
2
93
27K
LukeRomyn
4
4
92
384K
ChuckWendig
4
5
91
34K
theCreativePenn
6
4
90
60K
WriteIntoPrint
4
7
89
83K
GuyKawasaki
10
2
88
1.4M
CalvinHelin
8
4
88
1.9M
ceebee308
4
9
87
505K
BigThink
10
5
85
68K
scobleizer
13
4
83
413K
LinkedIn
11
6
83
766K
AnneRiceAuthor
12
8
80
87K
Adobe
13
14
73
330K
StephenKing
23
8
69
513K
WSJ
37
6
57
5M
Facebook
30
20
50
13.9M
PauloCoelho
38
12
50
9.5M
WritersDigest
38
17
45
501K
TimOreilly
36
20
44
1.8M
DannySullivan
35
22
43
401K
ChuckPalahniuk
40
19
41
501K
dickc
42
19
39
1.3M
BritneySpears
51
11
38
39M
NYTimes
56
10
34
13.2M
Twitter
58
14
28
32M
Buzzfeed
57
17
26
1.5M
KatyPerry
72
9
19
57.8M
Medium
71
13
16
793K
BarackObama
76
10
14
46.4M
TheEllenShow
75
12
13
32.4M

The accounts with 50% or fewer "good" follows are highlighted in pink. Among them is @dickc, the account of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. The account with the fewest "good" followers is @TheEllenShow, with @BarackObama coming up close behind.

@NYTimes ranks poorly (just below @BritneySpears), which naturally makes one wonder: Does having a large Twitter account automatically mean you'll acquire a ton of suspicious followers? I tried to get some insight into this by plotting the "non-good" percentage (% suspicious plus % inactive) against account size, in what I call the Bogosity Graph:

Percent bogus followers (x-axis) and account size (in thousands, y-axis).

I think the graph says two things. First, lots of points spread out along the bottom, which means it's definitely possible to have lots of fake followers even if your Twitter following is small. (Which we kinda knew.) Secondly, as you go up the y-axis, it's clear that once you get past 5 million followers, the odds are good that half or more of your followers will be bogus. In fact, it's virtually guaranteed.

I think it's possible to understand what's happening to large accounts this way: When you first join Twitter, you're prompted to follow certain large accounts. Probably less than half of new Twitter signups stick around. Most lose interest right away, or were only there out of morbid curiosity and decided to leave immediately, etc. So celebs and media sites get stuck with tons of inactive followers (abandoned accounts), through no fault of their own.

The "no fault of their own" argument doesn't apply across the board, though, because it's absolutely obvious, if you use a tool like tweepi.com, that many would-be Twitter celebs have deliberately pumped up their follower counts by buying followers. (In a future post, maybe I'll call out some of these clowns by name.)

Why @Twitter and @dickc don't clean up their accounts, I don't know. It speaks poorly of Twitter that its own corporate account has mostly bogus followers. Don't you think?

 ☙ ❧

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☙ ❧ 
 
I want to thank the following great folks who retweeted me yesterday on Twitter. My advice? Follow these guys. They retweet!



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