Lots of Twitter followers? Check to make sure they are real

I was disturbed to read about the proliferation of social bots, software that fakes being a real person online. And that made me check my list of followers. You probably should, too.

The New York Times reports that of the 500 million-plus Twitter accounts, “some researchers estimate that only 35 percent of the average Twitter user’s followers are real people.”

How do you know if a follower is a real person? The Times says that the bots “have sleep-wake cycles so their fakery is more convincing, making them less prone to repetitive patterns that flag them as mere programs. Some have even been souped up by so-called persona management software.”

Fake people with seemingly real lives. Crazy and creepy.

I decided to inspect my Twitter follower list. The process is simple. Log into your Twitter account, go to the “Me” page and click on Followers. My list breaks down into groups for which I am certain the people or organizations exist:

  • Former journalism colleagues. Robert Barba (@Barba_AB) and Mike Graham (@TCPalmMGraham) are two of the people in the largest group. I broke bread with these people.
  • Current colleagues. Boardroom Communications (@boardroompr), the best PR firm in South Florida, and Raul Reis (@raulreis2001), the dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at FIU. I have been to their offices.
  • Former students. Mariella Roque @___mella), a recent FIU graduate, and Betsy Soler (@bsoler), a social media maven in her own right, are just two examples. I know they exist because I taught them at FIU.
  • Journalists. They include Brian Bandell (@BrianBandell) of the South Florida Business Journal and Julie Pearl (@juliepearl920) of WPTV-TV. Her husband is a White Sox fan, but I like him anyway.

The rest include well-established organizations such as Technion Society (@TechnionSociety) from the MIT of Israel, and my newest follower, Hispanicize Wire (@HispanicizeWire).

There a few that I have not heard of, such as The Stock Swoosh (@TheStockSwoosh) and Stock Forecasts (@ShoppingdotFM). Are they bots? Maybe.

It’s clear from scanning the list several times that I am not being stalked by social bots. That’s good; it’s better to have an honest number of followers than an inflated figure that’s a third junk.

Keep that in mind when building your Twitter list. Bots are there to use you: to build their following; to support a cause that you may oppose; to sabotage discussion of public issues; to steal money from you; or some other underhanded purpose.

Keep your list of followers clean and you’ll have more success with Twitter.

One Response to “Lots of Twitter followers? Check to make sure they are real”
  1. Julie Unger says:


    It is absolutely amazing how many fake accounts there are out there. That’s one of the reasons mine is completely private, and that whole Library of Congress and Twitter having an agreement for access to every public tweet since 2006, when Twitter began. An archive of every public tweet? Not exactly something I’d like to contribute to. Essentially, only private accounts, where tweets are protected, are excluded. http://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2013/01/update-on-the-twitter-archive-at-the-library-of-congress/

    A few months ago, fake Twitter accounts hit the mainstream news when teen singer/pop artist Justin Beiber’s Twitter account was analyzed. http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/half-of-justin-biebers-twitter-fans-are-fake/story-e6frfmqi-1226618681579 The idea of fake accounts isn’t new – it just hadn’t become a media focal point until Justin Bieber’s follower count closed in to Lady Gaga’s. http://www.pcworld.com/article/2045074/review-fakers-app-sniffs-out-fake-twitter-accounts.html

    While I have no intent on saving my Twitter account for prosperity, I want it to remain private. Private accounts have their own limitations, especially when attempting to send direct messages to people, but I’m much more willing to use the service when given the option to keep things private. Those who have or had their accounts public prior to the 2010 agreement do not have the ability to stop the Library of Congress from archiving their tweets.

    There is value in creating a Twitter library. Surely most tweets will be mindless drab, funny comments, crude jokes and obscure references, but Twitter has proven itself to be instrumental in the case of natural disasters and breaking news. http://csce.uark.edu/~tingxiny/courses/5013spring13/readingList/www2010.pdf

    Recently, a company tried to follow me that was selling followers. Within 24-48 hours, I could have 2,500 followers for only $16. This is coming from just one company, in California, but, companies like this exist everywhere. https://twitter.com/Adrieneavo The allure of having thousands of followers can also help with credibility, as many companies have discovered.

    The prices were incredibly low, and while it might seem appealing to gain credibility, active and real users are the only ones of actual value. I’ve seen some things that say if you have a 1:1 ratio or less, of people following you, your credibility is in question. http://seanclark.com/twitter/establishing-credibility-on-twitter/

    While some criticisms and trademarks of bots is that tweets are often posted either 24 hours a day, or during normal daytime hours, the timing of tweets can be counter-balanced by using programs such as Hootsuite and TweetDeck. However, I’d like to think that those with malicious intent aren’t using such programs because they take some, though not much, effort.

    Looking forward to more insight,



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