fakefollowersWhilst fakery online, or crowdturfing to give it it’s proper name, is far from a new phenomenon, it has become a more public thing over the last 18 months.  It emerged last year that the industry in fake followers was already worth several million dollars.

That turned out to be a pretty heavy under-estimate of the problem though.  Some Italian research earlier this year suggested that the true size of this market is more likely to be around $300 million.

Whilst initially these fake accounts were pretty basic creations, their more recent versions have been growing more sophisticated, with researchers revealing that many are now capable of actual social interaction.  Whilst it’s unlikely any will be passing the Turing test any time soon, it’s nevertheless an interesting development.

Such has been the growth of Twitter bots, that researchers have begun to monitor their growth.  Truthy, a project heralding from Indiana University, monitors bot activity (amongst other Twitter trends).

The goal of such bots is pretty varied.  With the influence of Twitter on the rise, many are created to spread influence around particular topics.  I posted recently about the growing trend in bots being created to snaffle up restaurant bookings.  It is inevitable that bots will take on underhanded tasks, be that political or commercial sabotage of their rivals online campaigns.  The tactics of hackers, such as a distributed denial of service attack are relatively easy to replicate in the social world.

As you’d expect with social media however, the most common purpose thus far is to inflate popularity.  A classic case in point is that of Carina Santos, a supposed journalist in Brazil that fooled people to such an extent that the likes of Klout believed her to be more popular than Oprah Winfrey.  That she was not only a fake, but also a bot does little for the credibility of sites designed to measure influence.

With crowdturfing increasingly being used for apparently mainstream activities, it begs the question of how long it will be before regulators begin to get involved in policing this area.