Why is the market for fake Twitter followers still booming?

fakefollowersCrowdturfing is not a new phenomenom.  For as long as communities have existed there have been fake profiles created.  In an interview last year, Reddit founders revealed that they themselves used fake accounts to get the site off the ground.

Last year it was revealed that the industry was worth many millions of dollars already.  That was before Mitt Romney’s Twitter account brought things to a very public head.  His account famously gained around 100,000 followers in a very short space of time, leading to accusations that he’d paid for the extra followers.

The furore led to services such as a fake follower checker by StatusPeople, which claimed to be able to unearth how many of your own followers were fake.  Research revealed that some big brands had as many as 50% fake followers.

Far from showcasing the seedier side of the web however, this publicity seems to have propelled the crowdturfing industry to new heights.  Two Italian security experts have been investigating the black market in Twitter followers.  They found the market to be buzzing with activity.

They found over 20 companies offering fake Twitter followers, with a combined total of over 20 million fake accounts in circulation.  These fake accounts are typically sold in batches of at least 1,000, but sometimes as high as 1 million at a time.  The fake followers can be bought for around $18 per 1,000, although some are sold for much more.

Overall they estimated that the industry had mushroomed to be worth up to $360 million a year.

“There is now software to create fake accounts,” one of the researchers said in an interview. “It fills in every detail. Some fake accounts look even better than real accounts do.”

The most sophisticated of these accounts post tweets on a regular basis and come complete with photos and bios.

“Resellers lately haven’t been selling only accounts and followers, but are now getting into the retweet business,” the researchers revealed.


9 thoughts on “Why is the market for fake Twitter followers still booming?

  1. So crazy! It's something that I definitely do not understand. Seems so silly to think that you look good by having incredibly huge numbers instead of interacting, listening and responding to real people and building your brand.

    • Sadly a lot of managers still care about vanity metrics like the number of followers or visitors to your website. It reveals a lack of real understanding about what can be achieved online.

  2. Crowdturfing? Well, there's one new word for my repertoire! Yep, fake accounts are creeping all around on social media, Twitter, Tripadvisor and many others. It seems to answer to need for some executives to show results on a spreadsheet based solely on metrics such as likes or followers. Sad, really, when it should be more about engagement. Engagement that leads to a business metric: increasing sales, reducing costs, improving customer service, reducing call waiting, etc. Anything else is just fluff.

    • Exactly Frederic, it all comes back to the metrics that people are being asked to report on. If it was down to sales generated or customer support resolutions then there would be no point at all in buying x thousand followers.

  3. I get a lot of followers with x-rated profiles. I don't have very many followers, only a few hundred, so I got through my list of followers regularly and that's when I see them. I think these are fake? Is that part of the same phenomenon?

    • Hi Johanne,

      Yes and no. They are pretty sure to be fakes in that they're created automatically, but they weren't created on order by yourself. The industry exists because companies or individuals are paying for those kind of accounts to be setup to follow and/or share their content. Obviously many are slightly more lifelike than the x-rated followers on your own account, but that's the basic principle.

  4. Thanks for highlighting this problem. I think it exists as you rightly pointed out because of the pressure of metrics vs. engagement. I thought that they were easy to spot but it looks like they are even better than some real accounts! That makes me think that I might even be following some of them! What do you think is the best solution to this menace?

    • Suppose it all comes back to the metrics that people care about. With followers easy to game, and even engagement pretty easy to game, it's really long overdue that people start caring about metrics that really matter. Those are much tougher to fake.

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