Despite Twitter’s efforts to crack down on the buying and selling of fake accounts, it’s still a booming business.
While Twitter estimates that fake accounts represent fewer than 5 percent of its active user base, independent researchers say the number is higher: “Italian security researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli say they found 20 million fake accounts for sale on Twitter this summer,” the Wall Street Journal recently reported. “That would amount to nearly 9 percent of Twitter’s monthly active users.”
Robot programming software makes it easy for spammers to create and sell fake accounts at scale. And while Twitter has worked with researchers to develop a more sophisticated filter, as with steroids, when the filter changes the market quickly adapts.
Are your followers fakes?
At least a few of them probably are. If you’re curious, there are multiple websites that will root out the robots for you, breaking down your following into three categories: fake, inactive, and “good” (i.e. active and not a robot). Relatively new to Twitter, I broke down my own (measly) 229 followers: 6 percent fake, 27 percent inactive, and 67 percent good.
For media organizations, the number increases. I checked out @Mashable, which the WSJ singled out as having a particularly heavy bot following. The verdict? Twenty-seven percent fake, 42 percent inactive, 35 percent good.
For celebrities, the breakdown is even more surprising. Katy Perry, the most followed person on Twitter as of November, is extremely popular with the robots. She has a larger percentage of fake accounts than Mashable does – a shocking 46 percent of her followers, according to Status People, are fake, and another 40 percent are inactive, which means her actual audience is a literal fraction of her official following.
How you can shortcut the system
In June, Barracuda Labs released an extensive report on Twitter’s underground economy. It found that the average cost for 1,000 followers is $11, and most sellers can be found on eBay or Fiverr.
If you’re willing to shell out more money, however, it’s possible to buy higher quality fake accounts.
According to the report, “Some are extremely sophisticated such as, which provides extensive features, including 100% active followers, 5-year retention protection (no followers drop in 5 years), guarantee to pass StatusPeople detection, geo-target by country or city, target by keywords or profile information, monthly subscription, daily delivery, etc.”
The site also offers a “daily followers option.” For $19 a month, you’ll gain five a day – for $99 a month, you’ll gain 100.
“The more you pay, the better the accounts are, and the longer they last,” Italian security researcher Carlo De Micheli told NBC News. “There is a huge gap between the quality of fake Twitter followers.”
For high quality accounts – which include profile pictures, bios and the ability to tweet and re-tweet — prices can reach $40 for 1,000, said De Micheli.