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Fake Twitter followers – Playing dirty with Social Media

Twitter Fake Followers – Welcome to the dark side

Ever noticed someone’s Twitter following increase dramatically overnight? To put it simply there is a good chance they bought themselves some fake followers from one of a number of sources.  If you are on Twitter there is a very good chance you have already been offered them a number of times.  You know the types of spammy users fronted by pictures of pretty smiley girls that come to you half a dozen times a week offering to sell you 1,000+ followers.  Have you given into temptation and bought yourself a few additional friends and thought no one would notice?  Or maybe you invested in some of these fake accounts and went around shouting about it?

Almost everybody likes the thought of looking popular, and buying followers is a cheap and easy option. An ever-increasing number of companies and brands are trying to fast-track their way to social media success by purchasing fake followers through sites like Viralkick and Intertwitter.

Can you spot fake followers in a profile?

Fake followers used to consist of profiles with blank profile images and next to no one following them.  They have gradually become more sophisticated using stolen profile photos and adding additional followers via follow/unfollow software and interlinking each of the spam profile accounts.  The fake follower industry is huge and worth millions of pounds every year.  If Twitter could find an easy way to put a stop to it then they would have done but with new fake sellers on Twitter every day, this is difficult, coupled with the websites openly selling millions of fake followers to ego hungry individuals.

It isn’t just businesses and brands employing this dishonest tactic, it’s even more common amongst celebrities and individuals in business who have been caught faking it too.  In the past American presidential nominee Mitt Romney was accused of buying followers after his Twitter following increased in a suspiciously short space of time.  There are many celebs that have also been accused of faking it including the likes of Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber but you can be assured that almost every Twitter user has a certain amount of fake followers either by choice or by chance.

Will fake followers attract real users?

Many people are under the impression that buying followers will help them attract real Twitter users, as people are more likely to follow someone who already has a lot of fans as they must be more important. Businesses that are just starting out might want to boost their following to make them look reliable and trustworthy. But will buying followers really help a business in the long run, or is it more trouble than it’s worth?

Not only is buying followers dishonest and unfair to people who have spent time and effort gaining followers the right way, but getting found out can completely ruin your digital reputation and make a brand or individual look rather desperate.  But worst of all fake followers are not real, that’s right people, these fake accounts will not share your posts, favourite your witty comments or at any time become a customer of yours.  Quite simply if you are not interacting with real people connected to real accounts then it’s no different to being sat at the zoo promoting your services to a bunch of apes (although they would be more likely to be receptive).

Apps to spot fake followers

It’s now easier than ever to find out who’s faking it thanks to handy web apps like Status People and Twitteraudit (no affiliation to either). The app tells you what percentage of your followers are fake and how many are inactive, and you can use it to check other users’ accounts too. There’s even a ‘fakers list’ which names and shames people who have a high percentage of bogus accounts following them.

The risks involved in faking it

People who buy fake followers could also be putting themselves at risk from malware being spread via links from fake accounts. In 2014 a tweet caused havoc when malware was spread around claiming that the US government was shutting down Bitcoin. The story was completely made-up, and the link, which appeared to lead to a news video on the Wall Street Journal, was fake. When an unsuspecting user clicked on it, they would be prompted to download what seemed to be Adobe Flash Player, but which was actually a piece of malware which would then hide itself in their computer.  There have been numerous other smaller attacks like this and numerous links spread amongst fake accounts that go to potentially harmful sites.  So if you are buying fake followers then you are also one of those partly responsible for the continued circulation of fake messages and dodgy links that worm their way through the social network.

Even if you haven’t bought fake followers, spam-bots are still able to follow you, and unfortunately, the more real followers you have, the more likely you are to get spammed. Not all fake accounts are malicious, but if you gain a follower who doesn’t look like a real user, it’s easy to block them just in case.

Can you spot who is real?

But how can you tell who’s real and who’s not? Robots aren’t so difficult to spot when you know the signs. Look out for accounts that have a lot of followers but hardly any tweets, or users who post a lot of content but hardly write anything original. If there are tweets from the account that aren’t links, they might just be incoherent sentences. Often they have a pattern where they tweet a certain amount of messages then promote the sale of Twitter followers every ‘X’ amount of tweets.  Have a look at whether they actually interact with other Twitter users, too.

Will apps like Status People put an end to fake followers? Probably not, but it might at least make people think twice before they purchase them or maybe it will take the embarrassment of being found out and put in the spotlight. As for avoiding robot followers, it’s annoying having to go through your account and block them, but it’s important if you want to avoid getting spammed.

Twitter isn’t the only marketplace for fake followers, these can also be found on Facebook and Instagram who last year purged their networks to get rid of the fakers and in turn Kim Kardashian lost 1.3 million followers and Justin Bieber lost 3.5 million followers.  The fakers industry is one that is still growing but like with everything it will have its day.

Personally I choose not to follow anyone back if it looks like they have bought fake followers, in fact, they lose my instant respect.  So if you have tweeted 100 times since you started your account 3 months ago but already have 10,010 followers and none of your tweets are being shared, there’s a good chance I can see that your selfie mugshot and fancy job title don’t distract from the fact that you are FAKING it.

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Zak Jacobs

About Zak Jacobs

Zak Jacobs is the Director of UK Digital Agency Red Alien. An experienced digital marketing professional, passionate about online integrity, user experience, and performance marketing strategies.