Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Twitter Social Networks The Almighty Buck

Inside the Real Economy Behind Fake Twitter Followers 75

Posted by Soulskill
from the black-market-cares-what-you-had-for-breakfast dept.
colinneagle writes "People continue to pay money for Twitter followers, and, naturally, a deep network of developers and merchants has arisen to feed the market. A Barracuda Labs study found that the average dealer has the capacity to control as many as 150,000 followers at a time, sometimes more. Those who can control 20,000 fake accounts and can attract sales of $20 or more — the going rate is 1,000 followers for a minimum of $18 — stand to earn roughly $800 per day, according to Barracuda Labs. Keep in mind that very little of this work is manual; the dealers could easily control a system of botnets and set up a few software tools to automate much of the process. Using Twitter's API, developers can design programs that collect all the information of a given group of Twitter users, such as, for example, the 800,000 users following Mitt Romney's account. These programs don't necessarily hijack these accounts — they copy the images and text from their profiles and tweets. This pool of information can then be automatically ported into accounts based on an algorithm that automates the registration process on a massive scale."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Inside the Real Economy Behind Fake Twitter Followers

Comments Filter:
  • To what end? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pudding7 (584715) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @02:31PM (#40988247)
    Is the sole purpose of doing this to make an entity seem more popular on Twitter than they really are? Assuming so, what is the tangible benefit of doing that? Does Mitt Romney win the election if he has more (albiet fake) Twitter followers?
    • Re:To what end? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @02:35PM (#40988315)

      From the second link in the summary, first paragraph:

      Some people do it just out of simple competition, essentially throwing their money away so they can boast more Twitter followers than their friends. Others do it to boost their corporate profiles, while even more high-profile cases have led to better reputations in the world of online clout, and thus job opportunities and advertising revenue.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      well.

      first. get a job at stupidfirm CDEF as social media expert. tie your bonus with twitter/fb followers. buy spam followers, cash in the bonus.

    • Just like SEO, this is for managers who were given an arbitrary popularity metric to follow rather than being told to create good content people actually wanted to read.

    • Re:To what end? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PeanutButterBreath (1224570) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @02:47PM (#40988467)

      Assuming so, what is the tangible benefit of doing that? Does Mitt Romney win the election if he has more (albiet fake) Twitter followers?

      Many voters, probably most, are too apathetic to bother evaluating candidates on their merits. Instead they extrapolate those merits from things like poll numbers and other horse race indicators. "Well, if that many people follow Romney on Twitter, he must be legit." "Well if more people favor Romeny over Obama in this or that completely unscientific and opaquely evaluated popularity contest, he must be the better candidate!"

      Its true that only an idiot would use a candidate's number of Twitter followers to make their choice in a political election. Which is exactly why this is a potential problem.

      • by manaway (53637) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @08:19PM (#40992221)

        Many voters, probably most, are too apathetic to bother evaluating candidates on their merits. Instead they extrapolate those merits from things like poll numbers and other horse race indicators.

        Let's put a twist on this. What if instead of "apathy" we switch in "availability." If you watch US corporate news or read (almost) any newspaper, you'll only find what you mentioned: poll numbers from biased surveys, Twitter sound-bites, pretty pictures of candidates in their shirt sleeves. That's all a voter has to go on unless they do their own research. Which is time consuming even for those who excel at analysis.

        Quick, where do you go to critique a voting record, review the original bill, find out what was crammed in at the last minute, and figure out why a politician voted as they did? When you go to the source you'll find volumes of data. There's 6 hours gone, though with some small but significant knowledge digested. There's a lot of analysis on the Internet, some that's really excellent, but then again you're on a search for good info with a lot of effort dedicated to filtering the various biases. So to save time you start to look for a few analysts to trust, maybe one that other people have found, one that's popular. And you're back where you started, voting with a crowd.

        One of propaganda's methods is the bandwagon effect [wikipedia.org], and these fake Twitter accounts use the technique because it has a history of working.

    • If Ron Paul has 88 million twitter followers and Mitt Romney has 7, obviously nobody cares about Romney. That means Paul will probably smash the next election, it's not worth voting for Romney because he's got less of a following and is going to be marginalized.

      In real life, plenty of people consider a vote for a third party to be a wasted vote. They want their vote to "count", which i don't understand. I don't even vote because the people who are up in front of me aren't of my interests; my vote won't

      • by neminem (561346)

        "Who do you vote for?" Nobody, cause it's not worth bothering? Seems pretty obvious.

        Anyway, as far as I can tell, politicians are all crazy, just in different ways, and all crooked, just in different ways, so I might as well vote for a guy who only sucks a bit and might win, as opposed to a guy who sucks slightly less, but still sucks, and won't win.

        • You and a huge number of people. Instead of Romney 37% Obama 39% Paul 24% we get Romney 48% Obama 51% Paul 1% because you would rather vote in some crack than someone who's halfway decent. Could you imagine if the third party got a viable vote? Politicians might have to stop banking on Republicans voting for Republicans and Democrats voting for Democrats, and instead try to pretend to be a candidate that people actually want. But all the people like you are preventing that; you're preventing competition
    • by Ziggitz (2637281)
      Because one can use the illusion of popularity to spark interest from actual twitter users. From there spread the same information you do through campaign ads and hopefully it has a not insignificant impact. Given how much Republicans are spending per voter in these elections it's probably as cost efficient for them once other ad markets are saturated.
      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        ...it's probably as cost efficient for them once other ad markets are saturated.

        Saturated by the ads the Democrats are spending tons of money buying, you mean?

        You seem to think political spending is being done by just one side here, and imply that there's something wrong with it, too.

    • Each of the fake accounts can be programmed to "retweet" the account they're following, and as even fake accounts will develop followers of their own (some of them will even be real people), so the reach of the original message is increased.

      There's a second effect - one way to get more followers is to follow people, there's a vague moral "obligation" to follow people who follow you, so following 10k people might net you 2k followers in return. To stop this kind of spam-style following Twitter limit you
  • by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @02:32PM (#40988267)
    Does this sound like a science fiction story? thousands of internet profiles developed by computers using hijacked accounts manipulating the masses for money in a grand Machiavellian scheme
  • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @02:33PM (#40988275) Homepage
    It's not just Twitter that has issues with paid-for accounts. Many sites do. You can see prices from one large seller here [buyaccs.com]. I work on Gmail signup abuse (amongst other things) and am quite proud of the price of Gmails on there.
  • I smell a sales pitch coming on. I've seen many of these stories cropping up in the last few days.

    Either the collective awareness of the Internet has suddenly focused itself on this problem... or well-paid PR companies are doing their job.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You underestimate how lazy journalists are. If they see someone has written a new article, they blatantly copy it. Half the work has been done already. If they see a bunch of articles on the same topic, then it must be trending & of interest, so they copy it to jump onto the band wagon.

      This happened with a friend of mine in grad school. She literally studied watching grass grow. The most boring thing in the world. Someone did an original article on her & her work. When it ran the next month,

  • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @02:35PM (#40988307)

    the average dealer has the capacity to control as many as 150,000 followers at a time, sometimes more. Those who can control 20,000 fake accounts and can attract sales of $20 or more — the going rate is 1,000 followers for a minimum of $18 — stand to earn roughly $800 per day,

    Throw in some "unlimited" and some "caps" and it sounds like a cellphone confuseopoly plan. Break it down simple for a fool like me... Lets look at the market. Say you're 18 and hired as the "social media director" at your F500 megacorp for $250K/yr and your key performance indicator is gaining 1000 twitter followers per month. That means you'll have to whip out your personal credit card for... What, $18 every month, or $18 for every 1000 PER month, or $20 for 20 kiloaccounts or what?

    So... twitter is basically a "service" where fake media personalities have their PR agent write fake posts for fake followers to read, because it makes money, huh?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      So... twitter is basically a "service" where fake media personalities have their PR agent write fake posts for fake followers to read, because it makes money, huh?

      Marketing calls that, "Adding value"

  • If you were to outsource some specific portions of the process to third world sweatshops, you would still be able to remain profitable under those margins, and do so without having to constantly update your algorithms to defeat the platform's bot detection. Efficiency!

    • Hmm, now what we need is a service that sells sweatshop services, with emphasis on features like age and technological ability of the workers ...

  • by aveng0 (590814) <david@@@chinacat...ca> on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @02:42PM (#40988413) Homepage
    As a side project I built TwitterAudit (which is under a lot of load right now and runs on a 512mb VPS :) to estimate how many followers are real vs how many are fake. It looks at a sample of 5000 followers and about 5 criteria to guess whether a given user is real or fake... check it out!
  • Hi friends. I present a question.

    Who the fuck cares how many Twitter followers a said person has? Is this the new e-penis? I assume it has to do with spam and advertising somehow (exposure hits) but in all, it sounds silly.

    • by bhlowe (1803290)
      Herd mentality: People want to join popular groups--to get in on what is perceived as a good group. Nobody wants to join a group with a paltry number of members.
    • Is this the new e-penis?

      You must be new here!

  • by ilikenwf (1139495) on Tuesday August 14, 2012 @02:56PM (#40988627)
    ...unless you're in on this sort of thing early, you usually can't really profit much from it. You can profit, and waste time, but it's better to find the next frontier rather than jumping on the bandwagon.

    I know some guys who do this sort of thing and they always end up using a combination of outsourced labor and automated posters, and it's really not that hard to do. XRumer usually does a decent job at this sort of thing, amongst others. The thing is, they were in on it early, before twitter even became a thing in the mainstream.

    Really, though, aside from just selling followers to people and generating a bit of ad revenue or whatever, this is probably less profitable than splogging and having cloaking pages take non-spider visitors to your sales pages... From there you just spam links...though Penguin made that a bit more difficult. Either way, this type of marketing suffers diminishing returns faster than anything I've ever worked with, otherwise, I'd be spamming twitter right now.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do you think the same type of activities are targeting Amazon, eBay, FaceBook or Google?

    Controlling online perception of preference and/or demand has to be as lucrative and powerful as conventional radio, TV or newspaper advertising used to be, especially since they all go hand-in-glove these days. And if it made Google 'worth' bazillions, it's gotta be worth gaming, right?

    Whither goest mine eyeballs goest those who seek to pull the wool over them.

  • On BuySellAds you can pay up to a few hundred dollars for a paid tweet. However, some of the sites that appear to have thousands of followers have little traffic. No doubt there is one or two sites on there with fake followers offering Paid tweets.

    This is not BSA problem really, but I would recommend being mindful and researching the site in question before coughing up the dollars.
  • As soon as I saw the headline, I knew I would read "Romney" in the summary. Keep the narrative alive, soldiers.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.

Working...