It’s not uncommon for social media users to become obsessed with their popularity on major social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You may even be guilty of it too! Ever post a picture to Instagram and then just ten minutes later feel disappointed that it only has three likes? I, of course, know nothing about that… 😉 How many likes, shares and followers people have can have a positive impact on their social profile, often increasing credibility and validation for good content, but, would you be willing to actually pay for followers?
The issue of paying for fake followers has become a big issue, especially with Twitter, which doesn’t tie one person to one profile, requiring a legitimate email address, as Facebook does, and can be more easily prone to bots. This issue is becoming all the more concerning as the fake accounts grow increasingly more sophisticated, making it hard to distinguish between real accounts and fake ones. Some fake accounts even have a photo and bio that tweet and retweet content.
Italian researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli studied this phenomenon earlier this year, finding that there are more than two dozen shops selling fake Twitter followers – including Fiverr, LikedSocial, InterTwitter, FanMeNow, SeoClerks, Viral Media Boost and SocialPresence – with as many as 20 million fake follower accounts in existence today.
But, is this a lucrative business for these companies? While a site like Fiverr sells 1,000 Twitter followers for just $5, Barracuda Labs’ 2012 study, The Twitter Underground Economy: A Blooming Business, found that it costs an average of $18 for 1,000 followers. That may not seem like very much, but Stroppa and De Micheli told the New York Times that fake Twitter followers could be a $40 million to $360 million business – and that was a conservative assessment!
With such potential revenue, it’s no wonder the fake follower market is continuing to escalate among the underground Twitterverse. And it doesn’t appear to only be impacting those who are paying for the fraudulent service. Fake accounts become harder to detect if they’re following more than just a few users. In fact, according to Barracuda Labs, the average fake Twitter account follows 1,799 users, which means they could be following you too!
To help detect fake followers, social media management company StatusPeople built a tool to show a breakdown of your Twitter followers into the good, the inactive and the fake. Check it out: http://fakers.statuspeople.com/ and see how your profile breaks out against your friends, coworkers or even clients. Mine shows up with 97 percent legitimate users, only 11 percent of which are inactive. Not too bad after reading all the scary stats about this booming underground market. How do you fare? Do you think there will ever be a way to completely weed out fake Twitter accounts?