Twitter has a huge problem when it comes to fake followers. The company has been fighting the problems for many years now, but with the latest revelations, it’s been going downhill. Not only are users having a problem with eggs (robots) and fake spammers, even celebrities are having a huge problem.
By one account, US President Donald Trump has almost 50 Million followers on Twitter, out of which 38% are said to be fake. While this may be a large number, there are news media outlets and celebrities with fake followers as well.
Twitter blames Devumi, among other organizations for the fake followers and problems associated with them.
“The tactics used by Devumi on our platform and others as described by today's NYT article violate our policies and are unacceptable to us. We are working to stop them and any companies like them,” Twitter’s PR team tweeted.
The problem is prevalent closer to home as well, with major actors and celebrities being marked by the media for having fake followers. Veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan talked about it in a tweet filled with anger –
“T 2599 - TWITTER ..!!! you reduced my number of followers .. !!??HAHAHAHAHAHAHA .. !! that's a joke .. time to get off from you .. thank you for the ride .. .. there are many 'other' fish in the sea - and a lot more exciting!!"
The NYTimes has reported that millions of Twitter users from celebrities and brands have vanished, as per their latest updates. There is an entire secondary market where celebrities (or their managers) can pick up these fake fans and give themselves an engagement boost closer to a launch or a new event. The case may be similar in other platforms as well.
Many politicians in India have a vast number of fake followers as well. ‘Twiplomocay a “study of the use of Twitter by world leaders”’, conducted by PR firm Burson-Marsteller, found that there could be as many as 60% fake followers in PM Modi’s Twitter profile. This could be huge as there are a significant number of followers on his profile (40M+)
Is the problem a fairly new one? No. In 2015, CEO Dick Costolo (who was CEO until 2015) admitted that they were losing a lot of members to fake profiles and this was hampering with their engagement statistics.
What’s Twitter stance in all of this? It believes that the problem exists but isn’t as exaggerated as some reports might claim.
"The methodology used by 'Twitter Audit' is deeply flawed and their incorrect information should not be taken seriously," - a Twitter spokesperson told IANS.
There was an interesting experiment done by Kim Arora from Times of India. She purchased fake followers for less than Rs 500 to see if it actually works.
“I signed up for a package of 1,000 followers on the website. There was no check for my email address and Twitter account linkage. I could have easily gifted new Indian Twitter followers to Taylor Swift, if it struck my fancy,” she wrote.
What’s interesting is that she could have bought the followers for anyone in the Twitter-verse, which is the problematic area.
Here is the crux of the issue. It doesn’t have to be any celebrity or brand who’s buying these fake followers. It could be another person or agency outside of their circle of influence. These agencies can drive massive traffic to any profile and then charge them for a ‘refill’.
The refill comes as an add-on service that fake-follower agencies provide when Twitter clamps down on fake followers. Basically, when Twitter catches these fake followers, you don’t get in trouble. And it’s so cheap to create new fake profiles that the agency can continue to refill you with new ones.
Many of these fake agencies come from smaller towns in India, as they’re looking for a fast way to make a quick buck. In the experiment that Kim ran she spoke to the agencies that she hired –
‘“Bots are popular because they’re cheap. They have been in demand for the last two years,” Arshad (name changed), who has been running his agency from a UP satellite town for three years, told me.’
Since Twitter can’t add new security features, as users might walk away, its stuck in a situation from which it can’t emerge unscathed.
While many leaders, brands and marketing companies protect themselves from these strategies, the cost of using them is much friendlier. Last year, an American influencer marketing company Mediakix created two fake accounts on Instagram and populated them with fake followers.
They were even able to secure brand deals under these accounts, which had more than 40,000 followers on each handle - Calibeachgirl310 and Wanderingggirl. With this, they were able to showcase how little marketing agencies care about vetting Instagram influencers and how little incentive general audiences have after they’ve been lured by social-proofing technique.