Earlier this week Twitter lit up when it became apparent (and was reported by JUSTIN MCELROY and METRO NEWS) that somebody had bought more than 10,000 fake followers for Mayor Gregor Robertson, boosting him from 44,800 to 55,400 in less than a week’s time. To put this in perspective, he’s been on Twitter since September 18th of 2008 and has averaged about 20 new followers per day in that time. Over 6 days in September his average rocketed to an impossible 1,766 new followers per day. They were clearly fakes and the mayor and his staff acknowledged that something was amiss, denying that they bought them.
I’ve actually been waiting for a couple years for a story like this to pop up in the local media. Since the last municipal election I’ve been checking in on one failed council candidate’s Twitter stats every once in a while watching this person (whom I won’t name) go through waves of fake followers. I’m fascinated that every few months their account gets loaded up with a few thousand fakes who are subsequently weeded out by Twitter, and it’s been such a curious spectacle that I just can’t look away. Check out this tracking of them below for an illustrated example of what it looks like when you buy followers (or they’re bought for you): massive jumps over a couple of days followed by similarly extreme dips as Twitter weeds out the fake accounts and attempts to right the ship.
When the story of the mayor’s account being beefed up broke, our friend Mike Eckford wondered aloud (on his afternoon radio program) about how easy it was to do that, so he decided that “the logical thing to do was to buy followers for the people who wrote the story that inspired the conversation”. Peter Meiszner (@petermeiszner – Global TV Online News Producer) Justin McElroy (@j_mcelroy – Global TV Web Producer) and Emily Jackson (@theemilyjackson – Vancouver Metro) were each on the receiving end of 1,000 followers.
All in it cost $9 and about 10 minutes of Mike’s time, most of which was spent creating a new Gmail address to minimize spam. I asked him if he had reservations about his credit card being compromised (as the types of people who sell fake followers might certainly be the type who would turn around and sell your credit card information to someone else) and he said he was, so to minimize the risk he found a site that accepted Paypal. “Not sure how much that minimizes the risk, so we shall see whether those reservations were well founded!”. Indeed we shall; if there’s one thing that makes Mike really awesome it’s that he’s not afraid to go out and conduct funny experiments like this and then talk about them on the radio.
Listen to The Mike Eckford Show from 2-6PM every weekday on 980 AM. And If you’re curious about people who you suspect might not have the following they appear to then check out twitteraudit.com and do a quick check on them. Below are how a few of the subjects of this story fare in terms of fakes versus actual followers on Twitter.