What is going on with Mitt Romney’s Twitter account?

what is going on with mitt romneys twitter account mittromneyOn the face of it, Mitt Romney’s social media outreach efforts were paying off amazingly over the last week, with the Republican Presidential nominee’s Twitter account gaining more than 75,000 new followers in the space of a day. Many cried foul, and evidence of some suspect activity has surfaced, but it’s still very unclear about just what has actually happened.

The 140 Elect blog – which tracks Twitter usage and the way it affects/is affected by the 2012 US Presidential elections – was the first to notice the unexplained leap in Romney’s microblogging fortunes last Friday, with a post headlined “Is Mitt Romney Buying Twitter Followers?” Inside the post, Zach Green was a little more open to interpretation: “I’m not saying he bought them, but Romney’s follower stats have taken a sharp and sudden rise since Friday 5PM EST,” he wrote, adding “Personally, I think this is too obvious for the Romney campaign to have done. It’s more likely somebody is trying to plant a story to embarrass him.”

It quickly became clear that those 75,000+ new followers weren’t actually real; for one thing, five of them had exactly the same avatar photo – one that belonged to Internet marketed Ben Sarma, who wasn’t one of the many new Mitt followers. Sarma wrote to each of them, saying “not sure how this happened, but you are using my picture on your profile. Though I’m flattered, please change it” (The photos remain in place on each profile, as of time of writing); describing the Twitter newcomers, Sarma tweeted that “they have surprisingly good taste when it comes to stealing profile pics,” adding later that “I’ll never look at this pic of me the same way.”

For their part, the Romney campaign seems to be as confused as everyone else. “We have reached out to Twitter to find out additional information regarding the rapid growth,” campaign digital director Zak Moffat told Buzzfeed, denying that the campaign was trying to artificially boost Romney’s follower count. It’s obvious, of course, that the boost is entirely artificial (Many of the new followers have names that follow the pattern of “@[name][randomletters]” such as @shaunmorrowjq, @catherncxz  and @duffchzx – All profiles using Sarma’s picture – suggesting that the names are being automatically generated using some formula, for example), but that still doesn’t answer who could be behind the bump.

While it’s perfectly possible that this is the Romney campaign being especially sloppy, the more common suggestion for what’s going on is an attempt to discredit Romney via this stunt. As Slate’s Will Oremus – himself a Democrat – puts it, “That sounds almost as bizarre, but it is true that the fake followers play into some Obama-friendly narratives: that Romney is uncool, that he can’t connect socially to real people, that he relies on his riches to buy success.” As it stands, we’ll have to chalk this one up to strange-and-dumb… and wonder whether we’re likely to see more such online pranks before the November election.

Emerging Tech

Twitter is officially a teenager now. Are we raising a monster?

On March 21, 2006, Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet. Thirteen years later, Twitter has fundamentally changed the way we communicate. Here are some of the myriad ways it's done that.
Social Media

New Zealand attack shows that as A.I. filters get smarter, so do violators

The shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand were livestreamed to social media, and while stats show networks are improving at removing offending videos, as the system improves, so do the violators' workarounds.
Computing

There’s more space on MySpace after ‘accidental’ wipe of 50 million songs

MySpace is no longer a safe refuge for music and media produced in the 2000s. It said that almost any artistic content uploaded to the site between 2003 and 2015 may have been lost as part of a server migration last year.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Social Media

Yep, it’s not just you. Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are down for many

Facebook's family of apps has been suffering issues for much of the day. Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Facebook itself have been out of action for users around the world, with the company scrambling to sort it out.
Social Media

Facebook may soon let you watch live TV with friends in Watch Party

Facebook Watch Party is designed to allow friends to watch together, even when they can't be in the same physical space. Now, that feature could be expanding to include live TV. Facebook announced a test of the feature, starting with live…
Social Media

Federal investigation digs into Facebook’s data-sharing deals

Facebook confirmed it is cooperating with a federal criminal investigation. According to a report, the company is under investigation for sharing user data with smartphone and tablet companies.
Social Media

Facebook explains its worst outage as 3 million users head to Telegram

Facebook, if you didn't already know it, suffered a bit of an issue on Wednesday, March 13. An issue that took down not only its social networking site, but also Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger. On Thursday it offered an explanation.
Gaming

Snapchat could soon let you play games in between your selfies

If a new report is accurate, Snapchat will be getting an integrated gaming platform in April. The platform will feature mobile games form third-party developers, and one publisher is already signed on.
Social Media

Twitter is testing a handy subscription feature for following threads

Twitter has recently started testing a feature that lets you subscribe to a thread so that you’ll no longer need to like a comment or post to it yourself in order to receive notifications of new contributions.
Social Media

Your Google+ public content will remain viewable on the web, if you want it to

Google's failed social network — Google+ — will soon be wiped from the internet, but there's a team of volunteers working right now to save its public content for the Internet Archive.
Computing

Intel and Facebook team up to give Cooper Lake an artificial intelligence boost

Intel's upcoming Cooper Lake microarchitecture will be getting a boost when it comes to artificial intelligence processes, thanks to a partnership with Facebook. The results are CPUs that are able to work faster.
Photography

Insta-checkout? New Instagram service lets you shop without leaving the platform

Shopping on Instagram no longer means leaving the platform to checkout in a web browser. Instagram checkout launched in beta today with a handful of retailers, allowing users to checkout without leaving the app.
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. But with so many subreddits to choose from, exploring them can be overwhelming. Here are some of the best subreddits to get you started.