The sad reality of Twitter is that the majority of users believe that a user’s number of Twitter followers is a metric of affluence. Of course, this perception as opened up a market of purchasing popularity, or buying Twitter followers. Presidential candidates, national journalists and TV stars have been accused of artificially inflating their follower counts through purchases.
A new post from Barracuda Labs takes a look a bit further at some of the stats around the artificial follower economy, and the results are quite staggering. Baraccuda uncovered 20 different sellers of Twitter followers on eBay and 58 sellers on Google. The average price of Twitter followers is $18 per 1,000 followers and the average buyer has 48,885 followers. The average percentage of users with a URL in their Twitter profile is 31%, but those who buy followers weigh in with 75% of their profiles containing URLs.
The “follower dealers” can control up to 150,000 Twitter followers and can make as much as $800 a day. The majority of fake accounts follow less that 2001 accounts as anything over 2000 allegedly trips Twitter spam filters. Dealers also can provide more valuable followers as well by creating programs that auto-tweet, follow and make accounts harder to diagnose as spam. Additional services are now popping up including paid retweets and mentions.
The tricky thing with paid followers is that no authentication is required; anyone can buy followers for a user. Mitt Romney is the most recently accused public figure as he jumped 116k followers in just one day. However, it is impossible to say that he did purchase these followers as anyone with a vendetta against him could easily buy him thousands of followers then claim foul play. It’s just as easy to buy followers for someone else than it is to purchase for your account. The only way users can stop the onslaught is by protecting their account.
The real culprit around this phenomenon is the overwhelming ease in which it takes to set up an account and the lack of required policing. With just a name, email address and password, anyone can become a Twitter user. Additionally, Twitter’s spam team does an adequate job identifying harmful spam accounts, but not so much on the fake accounts. Of Romney’s alleged paid followers only 10% have been removed to date. From personal experience we’ve seen Twitter only remove roughly 50% of the fake profiles over a 6 month time span.
To see the full report, head to Barracuda Labs, images courtesy of Barracuda Labs.