President Obama has a lot of Twitter followers, nearly 19 million at present count. However, a new web service suggests that nearly 70 percent of those followers are either fake or inactive accounts.
An article titled Buying Their Way to Twitter Fame published Wednesday in the New York Times highlights the increasingly common practice of buying Twitter followers. As the Times puts it, "That friend who brags about having 1,000, even 100,000 Twitter followers
may not have earned them through hard work and social networking; he
may have simply bought them on the black market." It turns out you can buy fake followers from several different vendors for as little as a penny a piece.
A new web-based service called Status People allows anyone to get an idea of what percentage of a user's followers are real, fake, or simply inactive accounts. What they've found is that famous people with large numbers of followers tend to also have a high percentage of fake followers. The Times story notes, "According to the StatusPeople tool, 71 percent of Lady Gaga’s nearly 29 million followers are 'fake' or 'inactive.' So are 70 percent of President Obama’s nearly 19 million followers." Status People founder Robert Waller explained the connection this way:
From our initial analysis of this issue the more followers you have the
more likely you are to attract fake or inactive accounts. The reasons
for this obviously need some research. But from the data we collect over
30% of those accounts with 500,000 followers or more return a poor
score from our App. Where as less than 1% of those with 5,000 followers
or less, the majority of Twitter users, generate an equivalent score.
It's still not clear whether Justin Bieber and the President are buying these fake followers or if it's a natural result of having so many real followers. Status People does vouch for the accuracy of their service. They purchased fake followers for an account they controlled and ran their web tool to gauge how its results accorded with reality. The results? They came within 5 percent. So whatever the reasons for the fakes the results appear to be fairly accurate.
I ran the test myself and here are the results for President Obama. As you can see, the Times is correct that nearly 70 percent are either fake or inactive accounts:
For comparison purposes, here are the results for Mitt Romney's account. He has a lot fewer fakes, but also a lot fewer followers overall:
Romney was accused of buying fake followers last month. His camp denied it and based on the results above it appears his number of fake followers is fairly low. Meanwhile, even if only 30 percent of the President's followers as real that's still roughly 6 million people. That's a big number and still a big advantage over Romney but it's not 19 million.