The New York Times examines the market for buying followers on Twitter:
The practice is surprisingly easy. A Google search for “buy Twitter followers” turns up dozens of Web sites like USocial.net, InterTwitter.com, and FanMeNow.com that sell Twitter followers by the thousands (and often Facebook likes and YouTube views). At BuyTwitterFollow.com, for example, users simply enter their Twitter handle and credit card number and, with a few clicks, see the ranks of their followers swell in three to four days…
“And it’s so cheap, too,” he said. In one instance, Mr. Mitchell said, he bought 250,000 for $2,500, or a penny each…
Twitter followers are sold in two ways: “Targeted” followers, as they are known in the industry, are harvested using software that seeks out Twitter users with similar interests and follows them, betting that many will return the favor. “Generated” followers are from Twitter accounts that are either inactive or created by spamming computers — often referred to as “bots.”
When numbers are taken as a measure of success or popularity, why should we be surprised by this? It is also interesting that people figured out how to discover the fake followers. Here is what one tool revealed:
If accurate, the number of fake followers out there is surprising. According to the StatusPeople tool, 71 percent of Lady Gaga’s nearly 29 million followers are “fake” or “inactive.” So are 70 percent of President Obama’s nearly 19 million followers.
So if paying for followers is supposed to boost status, could discovering that they have a lot of fake followers reduce their status? Lady Gaga is frequently cited as having the most Twitter followers; how would her brand be reduced if that wasn’t really true?
I am struck by the contrast with Facebook. While the term “friends” has been roundly panned, it does denote a stronger relationship than “follower.” Facebook users tend to look down on other users who accumulate too many friends. After all, Dunbar’s number suggests we can only have 150 friends in the offline world. Perhaps Facebook got this more right than Twitter…
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