February 17, 2009
The Newest Way To Game Twitter - Fake Followers

Last night, fellow Los Angelean, Jason Calacanis (@jasoncalacanis) tweeted about several folks acquiring 30k+ new followers in 6 days.



I know Jason pays attention to numbers since part of his business is watching the numbers. Jason’s an industry leader using SEO to promote his business, Mahalo. So, when Jason tweets about something other than his dogs, or poker, I usually pay attention.

Some of you are probably wondering, “So what?”. I understand. For many people this wouldn’t matter. However, there’s more than one use case for Twitter. Some people really do use Twitter for business. In this realm, more followers means more bragging rights and the appearance of more credibility. The number of followers matters to some of us.

I started looking into this and found quite a few accounts acquiring these bogus followers. For example: @veronica, @techcrunch, @anamariecox, @nytimes, @nprpolitics, @wilw, @ijustine, @mashable, @guardiantech, @pennjillette, @algore, @cnnbrk, and @wholefoods. Looks like whoever is following likes liberals and tech nerds. Just one more thing to offend my conservative sensibilites. ;)

Here’s a few screen captures of the follower graphs from Twitterholic to show the massive trend in follower counts starting on the 11th of February, 2009.

@ijustine:


@nytimes:


@guardiantech:


How did they do it? Someone is automating/scripting the creation of fake Twitter profiles and then following a select group of people. I looked at each of the aforementioned Twitter accounts to see what their followers looked like, . Almost every follower on every new page of followers had an account like this following (given the numbers on Twitter, it would have to be most of the followers on each page for these kinds of numbers - we’re talking about 5000 followers a day, that’s 250 pages of fake followers - every day!):



None of the fake accounts has a profile picture. Most of these accounts are following 20 accounts (I’m sure once the word gets out they will change their script). The pool of people being followed appears to be less than 50, however. This is an automated script that randomizes the 20 people being followed out of the pool of 50 at the time the account is created.

Who’s behind this? Dunno, but if Twitter captures the IP address of the person creating the accounts, they could easily determine who is behind this gaming approach.

What was the primary tip-off here for me? Other than the fact that people currently don’t get followers this fast? The fact that Mike Arrington (@techcrunch) and Pete Cashmore (@mashable) don’t get along at all, yet both are acquiring these same fake followers.

I was trying to do a quick analysis of this to see if there was one account that was followed more than others to determine the source. After looking at 50 pages of these bogus followers, I found that @guardiantech was at the top of the list. This seems to be corroborated by the numbers on Twitterholic. I don’t know who @guardiantech is (edit: see my comment at the bottom of the comments for clarification), or if they have the resources to be behind this, but it’s worth noting.

What’s the purpose of following all the other people if you wrote this script to boost your own follower count? Simple. So there would be many more than one account experiencing the same increase and therefore you wouldn’t stand out in the crowd.

I’ll update this as I find out new information. Please Digg this blog post. Follow me, I’m @brooksbayne.

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