ANYONE WHO USES electronic communications knows every channel is full of noise, spam, scams and fakes. The same goes for Twitter where 3% of my followers are fakes.
[NOTE: Ten hours after original publication, I updated this blog post to acknowledge information that has been discussed in Irish Twitter channels since 2009. This blog post is the first of three in a series related to nurturing a Twitter Community and forms the basis of a major lecture in the creative multimedia curriculum at LIT.ie.]
I follow several thousand voices across 12 time zones on Twitter because I want to have a Twitterstream that never sleeps. Occasionally, after I've tweeted something about a major brand or a big event, some electronic bot follows me and tweets something related to a product or service. The same thing happens when I walk main streets in Ireland--I'm asked for donations, a survey question or an outright plea for money.
The fact that Twitter is now filled with accounts that don't converse means it's become more like the mainstream world where more people are making noise or filling space. It's part of the fabric of the communications ecosystem that Twitter has nurtured. I don't think Twitter is a personal information channel--it's a media distribution and crowd-sourcing mechanism. People have connected their bathroom scales, runkeepers, and key fobs to Twitter. Elements of the "community" are sentient.
Thanks to some clever phweeple (phony Twitter accounts), I get a smile several times a day reading Lord Sugar, Angela Merkel, Death Star PR, and the Bronx Zoo Cobra. They're all fakes and I think Twitter is better for their contribution.
If you've actively used online social networks for more than a year, you've probably heard discussion about celebrities with millions of followers. You might have connected to people because you think the number of their followers indicates a measure of their reach and influence. However, you might not know that Twitter might be simply counting the number of accounts connecting to their accounts AND that some of those accounts might merely be automated bots, not real people. You might attract Twitter followers for a lot of reasons and sometimes you might not want the attention they generate.
Using the free online tool from Status People I decided to look at the percentage of fakes of 10 Irish people on my current timeline. I know some of the people listed below have followers they have never met and I believe some of them have followers that others have bought for them. Here's the unscientific result for a snapshot sourced from a list derived off my Irish timeline on July 18, 2012:
-- Damien Mulley: 81% fake among 29,152 followers @damienmulley
-- Pat Phelan: 81% fake followers @patphelan
-- Sean O'Sullivan: 51% fake among 13,150 followers @sosventures
-- Sabrina Dent: 6% fake among 3,828 followers @sabrinadent
-- Krishna De: 3% fake among 34,682 followers @krishnade
-- Niall Harbison: 3% fake among 10,288 followers @niallharbison
-- John Hannafin: 2% fake among 437 followers @jabit
-- Pat Whelan: 2% fake among 4,864 followers @pat_whelan
-- Susan Cloonan: 1% fake among 1,596 followers @susancloonan
-- Ireland: 1% fake among 8,180 followers @ireland
It's not fair to assume the people in this listing bought their followers--on the contrary there's a lot of cross-talk where active tweeple decry purchasing followers. As the screenshot in this blog post shows, three per cent of my followers are possibly fakes. That's about right because I know I'm often followed by spam accounts whenever I tweet about a major brand. I'm also followed by bots when I tweet about a global trending topic. I've been on Twitter since 2006 when most of the people connecting to me had eggs as faces and I've treated egg-faced avatars as par for the course. I could manually delete them but that takes more than 140 key strokes (beyond the attention I can devote to Twitter).
If you're followed by a load of wasters, you might like the main tool used by Status People. Its accuracy is improving and it can tell you a lot about who follows you. The developers are also working on a spam removal tool, something that some bloated accounts might find quite useful. As Darragh Doyle points out, Untweeps also helps ferret out inactive accounts..
I'm sure this blog post will generate more commentary on Twitter, on Facebook or on Google Plus than it generates here. I need this cross-commentary (cross in more than one sense of the word) because the topic of building a real Twitter community forms part of the social media module we teach in the Limerick of Technology. Your comments are welcome too.
The Faker Tool is at Fakers.StatusPeople.com but neither the Tool nor this post should be considered as insinuating any of the accounts cited are buying fake followers.
You can buy a Fake Follower Report if you want.
Bernie Goldbach has collected some links about Twitter. As far as can be determined, none of his followers are bought.