When a financially troubled suburb buys fake Twitter followers

Fake Twitter followers are not just for celebrities and politicians: a company may have purchased fake Twitter followers for the Chicago suburb of Harvey as part of a social media campaign.

As of last month, the Twitter feed had just 25 followers seeking updates to its posts. After the Tribune asked Harvey about Lola Grand, that number jumped to nearly 1,200. Social media experts said the new followers had telltale signs of being fake accounts bought from online brokers, who sell bulk sets of “followers” to wannabe celebrities, politicians or entrepreneurs trying to appear popular.

For example, one of Harvey’s new Twitter followers was Lieni Alves, who hasn’t posted a Tweet in 19 months, and then it was in Portuguese. The account follows more than 1,700 people besides Harvey, including porn actresses, a Christian music company, Brazil’s president and a host of people who tweet in Arabic and Turkish.

StatusPeople, a London-based firm, created an oft-cited algorithm to count suspect accounts. That algorithm last week estimated that 88 percent of Harvey’s Twitter followers were fakes, a figure called “very unusual” by StatusPeople’s founder, Rob Waller…

Lola Grand declined to say how it boosted Twitter followers. It said it designed a website but is waiting for Harvey to review it before launching that and the blogs. It said its other social media efforts have directed “hundreds” of residents’ requests to Harvey officials. The firm and the mayor’s office touted additional behind-the-scenes work, such as “brand development” and “24/7 monitoring of social media channels.”

This looks bad for a community that is already struggling for cash. But, if everyone is doing it…

It also highlights a new form of civic boosterism. There is a long history of American communities talking up their advantages and trying to sell themselves to potential investors, businesses, and residents. Think the novel Babbitt. In the past, it may have been more about gregarious men working their good old boy networks but today this can include politicians sniping at other states (see these examples of Indiana, Wisconsin, and Texas seeking Illinois jobs), television and radio ads (lots of radio ads in the Chicago area for the city of Bedford Park for all of their available water and industrial space), and online spaces. This can include running Google ads, YouTube videos, and using Facebook and Twitter.

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