So long, Mr. Popular: ‘Fake Follower Check’ exposes surprising Twitter frauds

Pay-for-tweets

It’s been a bad week for Twitter fans. First, the company hinted that the new Twitter API would break a whole lot of third-party developer’s software. Now, StatusPeople has proven that a whole lot of people’s all-important follower count is fake as @FakeSteveJobs.

StatusPeople is a company that makes “social media platforms for business.”  But unlike many companies with that mission statement, it doesn’t just promise to get your business more followers; it helps you figure out how many of your existing followers are spammers, inactive, or otherwise mere social media clutter.  That’s the purpose of their Fake Follower Check, an application that runs a follower list through a set of spam criteria. FFC mostly looks for followers who have few or no followers or tweets, but follow a lot of people themselves.  It’s not exactly a bulletproof algorithm – will no one hear the silence of social media’s introverts – but it’s not bad as a quick and dirty review system.  

Things get more interesting when you run Fake Follower Check on other people’s follower lists. A clever reporter at Business Insider decided to run some Twitter-loving celebrities through the FFC, and discovered that pop stars like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga have follower lists that are 45 to 48 percent fake, President Barack Obama’s follower list is about 41 percent phony, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has a follower list that’s 22 percent spammers.  Over at Metafilter, user crunchland decided to check for both fake and inactive accounts on the follower lists of prominent right-wing political figures, and discovered that not only were the faker numbers high, but Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and Barack Obama all had more fake and inactive followers than real people.

All of this would be nothing more than drive-by schadenfreude if not for the fact that many media outlets, celebrities, politicians and corporations use follower counts as a measure of their real-world success.  When Newt Gingrich was trying to convince the press that his presidential candidacy wasn’t just a scheme to get casino billionaires to buy him lunch, he pointed to his follower count as proof of his grassroots popularity, only to be accused of buying that count. Similar accusations have been lobbed at Mitt Romney, whose follower list included a number of users whose only presence online was a page offering to increase your Twitter following for a modest charge. 

Why would anyone pay for a bunch of fake followers?  First and foremost, because it leads to real followers. Jason Rundle, at PR Daily, tried buying a block of 1,000 fake followers to see if it would affect his real follower count, and was depressed to find that “my new, lifeless flock convinced other real people that the profile was popular and influential.”  That kind of increase can have real consequences when a high follower count can bring Hollywood agents and major publishers to your virtual door, reasoning that anyone with that many followers must have a built-in fan base.  Even Saudi clerics are taking an official position on the ethics of buying fake followers; as with most things Saudi clerics take a position on, they think it’s bad.

The practice of paying people to simulate popularity predates Twitter, the Internet, and the English language.  Long before the Roman Empire, rich men would hire professional mourners to follow their funeral trains making a great show of weeping to convince bystanders of their noble character.  The practice was so common that the Greek legislator Solon banned it in 6th century B.C., though it remained both frequent and frequently banned well into the 19th century. On a similar but more cheerful note, the word “claque”, today used to refer to a politician’s advocates, originated in early 19th century France, when professional agencies would arrange for crowds of any paid-for size to come cheer your theatrical or operatic performance, a useful service in the days when riots would often break out over who had the bigger audience.  So while buying followers may be a sleazy way to get donations, press attention, and ego gratification, it is at least a charming outbreak of traditionalism in the new media world.

Business

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Gaming

Bethesda explains why ‘Fallout 76’ players using secret room are banned

Following a series of bans in Fallout 76 brought on by players entering a secret room in the game, Bethesda has explain exactly why these players' accounts have been temporarily deactivated.
Movies & TV

Jason Reitman’s ‘Ghostbusters’ sequel already has a creepy teaser trailer

Jason Reitman, son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, has secretly co-written a follow-up to the 1984 supernatural comedy. Filming begins this summer, but it's not clear if the original Ghostbusters will reprise their roles.
Computing

Yes, Android apps can run on your PC, and it's easier than you think

Wish you knew how to run Android apps in Windows? It's easier than you might think and there are a number of different ways to do it. In this guide, we break down the steps so you can follow along with ease.
Social Media

A quick swipe will soon let you keep bingeing YouTube on mobile devices

The YouTube mobile app has a new, faster way to browse: Swiping. Once the update rolls out, users can swipe to go to the next (or previous) video in the recommended list, even while viewing in full screen.
Photography

Starting your very own vlog? Here are the best cameras to buy

Any camera that shoots video can be used to vlog, but a few models stand out from the crowd thanks to superior image quality, ergonomics, and usability. When it comes to putting your life on YouTube, here are the best cameras for the job.
Social Media

Twitter extends its new timeline feature to Android users

Twitter users with an Android device can now quickly switch between an algorithm-generated timeline and one that shows the most recent tweets first. The new feature landed for iPhone users last month.
Social Media

YouTube to crack down on dangerous stunts like the ‘Bird Box’ challenge

YouTube already bans content showing dangerous activities, but new rules published by the site go into greater detail regarding potentially harmful challenges and pranks, including certain blindfold- or laundry detergent-based stunts.
Social Media

Nearly 75 percent of U.S. users don’t realize Facebook tracks their interests

Did you know Facebook tracks your interests, including political and multicultural affiliations? According to a recent Pew study, 74 percent of adult users in the U.S. have no idea Facebook keeps a running list of your interests.
Mobile

It’s back! Here’s how to switch to Twitter’s reverse chronological feed

Twitter has finally brought back the reverse chronological feed, allowing you to see your feed based on the newest tweets, rather than using Twitter's algorithm that shows what it thinks you want to see. It's easy to switch.
Social Media

Nearly a million Facebook users followed these fake Russian accounts

Facebook purged two separate groups behind more than 500 fake accounts with Russian ties. One group had ties to Russian news agency Sputnik, while the other had behavior similar to the Internet Research Agency's midterm actions.
Social Media

Twitter suffers privacy scare as bug reveals tweets of protected accounts

If you set your Twitter account to private and you have an Android device, you'd better check your settings now. Twitter says it's just fixed a four-year-old bug that flipped the privacy switch to make the account public.
Web

Switch up your Reddit routine with these interesting, inspiring, and zany subs

So you've just joined the wonderful world of Reddit and want to explore it. With so many subreddits, however, navigating the "front page of the internet" can be daunting. Here are some of the best subreddits to get you started.
Social Media

Spice up your Instagram videos by adding your top tunes to the soundtrack

Have you ever taken a beautiful video, only to have it ruined by some jerk in the background yelling curse words? Here's a list of apps you can use to add your own music to Instagram posts as well as your Story.