Twitter Populated by Millions of Fake Accounts

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In a world where having a big online voice is key to making a name for one’s self, it should come as no surprise that an enterprising person can buy 1,000 fake Twitter accounts for less than $60 from an online vendor.

Once the accounts have been purchased, they can be programmed to follow an account to boost anyone’s standing to rebroadcast his or her tweets. Padding the numbers is part of the game now. 

So many bogus Twitter accounts. While some of these fake accounts are purchased by entertainers, politicians are also willing buyers of the bogus Twitter accounts. In 2011, thousands of them were used to disrupt anti-Kremlin protesters on the social networking site.

This strategy works because Twitter does not limit users to one account or require them to use their real names. The site’s terms of service do prohibit “mass account creation” and buying and selling of accounts or followers. Last spring, Twitter helped a research team apply a filter that was able to, for a time, block the majority of new fake accounts.

How many fake accounts are actually on Twitter? Twitter has conceded that fake accounts are a difficult problem, but maintains that the site has a number of “automated and manual controls in place to deflect, flag and suspend” accounts that are found to have been created solely for these types of purposes. In securities filings, Twitter has said that it believes that these fake accounts represent only a small percentage (less than 5 percent) of its 230 million active users.

The site did crack down on the fake accounts for about 10 months in 2012 and 2013 with the help of researchers from the University of California Berkeley and George Mason University. Providers adapted quickly, learning that the system would flag accounts with no pictures, incomplete profiles and little activity. They simply changed their habits to fill in more information, add pictures and tweet from the accounts before selling them. Most accounts were back in business very quickly.

It may seem that business is simply too good for them to stop providing the fake Twitter accounts. Some of the clients who have bought the fake accounts have appeared as “trending topics” on Twitter’s home page, which is an impressive piece of promotion for their particular business. That all said, no matter how easy it may be for some to skirt the system, building up a platform of mostly fake followers can backfire spectacularly, as has been the case for some authors or musicians, for example, who sign contracts based on numbers of followers that later turn up to be less-than-legitimate. The result could be a lost contract or a dropped deal…definitely not worth the risk.

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