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The rise of fake followers is a growing issue on Twitter. But how much of an issue? And where do all these fake followers come from?
The media quantifies success on Twitter for public figures by the number of followers they have. Brands pay celebrities for endorsements on Twitter so they can promote a message to a celebrity's followers. Kim Kardashian, for example, could earn $10,000 for a single Tweet to her network of 17.5 million followers. The volume of her Twitter following has an undoubtedly positive impact on her income.
But how much can we trust the number of followers a public figure has? Ever since news broke that a sharp increase in Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Twitter following came from fake accounts, it's become public knowledge that many celebrities have fake followers. Kim Kardashian is one of those celebrities. According to our research, only 43% of her followers are active and authentic Twitter users. So that $10,000 Tweet only gets seen by about 7.5 million of her followers. To determine the authenticity of accounts, we used Status People's Fakers Application. The application scans through a sample of a users' followers (the size of the sampling depends on the size of the following) and runs spam filters against the followers to flag users that have few to no followers, few to no tweets, and a comparatively large following.
Why are so few of her followers real? A percentage of them are likely inactive, and a percentage of them are likely fake.
The source of fake followers
From where do all these fake followers come? For example, as a way to publicize her edgy and funny young adult novel (in which Twitter plays a significant role), 'Taming of the Drew,' author Jan Gurley built accounts for the major characters and let a prequel to the book play out over Twitter over several days. One of the characters chooses to look popular by adding fake followers. How hard was it? Jan Gurley said it cost $5 and took a couple of hours to add 10,000 followers. There are fake follower vendors, such as ineedmorefollowers.com, which make it very easy for anyone to buy a following on a number of social media networks. So buying is one source.
It's a dirty business, but it is becoming more common knowledge that it's out there. And while we weren't remotely shocked to learn that pop stars and politicians are affected the most by the fake follower phenomenon, we wondered if it affects other public figures as significantly.
Lo and behold, it does.
Ten public figures with fake followers
1. Dick Costello, @dickc, CEO of Twitter
Klout Score: 82
2. Jack Dorsey, @jack, CEO & Founder of Square, Co-Founder of Twitter
3. Evan Williams, @ev, Co-Founder of Twitter
4. Kevin Rose, @kevinrose, General Partner at Google Ventures, Founder of Digg
5. Mark Cuban, @mcuban, Investor, Entrepreneur, Owner of Dallas Mavericks
6. Steve Case, @stevecase, Co-founder of AOL
7. Pete Cashmore, @mashable, Founder of Mashable
8. Richard Branson, @richardbranson, Founder and CEO of Virgin
9. Bill Gates, @billgates, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist
10. Barack Obama, @barackobama, President of the United States