An Internet security firm published a report Friday suggesting that someone may have paid for nearly 17 percent of Mitt Romney’s new Twitter followers.
The report, released by Barracuda Labs, details the Internet’s newest business sector: Twitter follower generators. People involved in the business are essentially currency traders of the digital age, buying and selling Twitter followers for their customers through online retailers.
In order to measure this industry’s depth, Barracuda Labs “set up three Twitter accounts and purchased between 20,000 and 70,000 Twitter followers for each of them,” wrote Jason Ding, a research scientist at the security firm.
The team discovered 20 sellers on eBay and noted that the average price for 1,000 followers is $18. Tweets and re-tweets are also for sale. On the other side of the exchange, the team came across 11,283 buyers maintaining an average of 48,885 followers. The next determination to make was who looks to gain such a huge Twitter audience in this way. Many people will point toward the political arena.
Barracuda Labs began analyzing Mitt Romney’s Twitter account in order to verify or debunk certain rumors about his campaign potentially having purchased fake followers. Researchers concentrated on the period between July 21 and July 26. In a single day, they found, Romney’s follower count increased from 673,002 to 789,924, representing a 17 percent surge.
Of these new followers, the team discovered that 80 percent were created less than three months earlier and that 23 percent had not posted any tweets. Twitter employees suspended 10 percent of the accounts shortly after discovery.
Yet Barracuda Labs clarified that the experiment is not a statement about Romney’s campaign, merely about the prevalence of Web-based fraud.
“It is possible for anyone to buy followers for other Twitter users,” wrote Ding. “That being said, Romney’s newest followers could have been paid for by himself, his associates or by his opponents. So far, there is not a feasible way to confirm who is responsible.”
Zac Moffat, the digital director at Romney for President, told CNET Monday that the campaign does not buy followers. Moffat shared the same sentiment with BuzzFeed last month when similar allegations were raised.
Unfortunately voters cannot be sure if these fake accounts will affect the “Twindex,” a new calculation tool unveiled Wednesday for predicting how Twitter users will voter in November. Twitter has nonetheless promised to upkeep its Terms of Service (ToS) by identifying and eliminating fake accounts. In April, the social networking website filed suit against five highly aggressive spammers in order to attack the problem at its source.
“As our reach expands, we become a more attractive target for spammers,” read the company’s blog. “By shutting down tool providers, we will prevent other spammers from having these services at their disposal.”
Somehow, though, this action is unlikely to rid Romney of his “chief tormentor” on Twitter. As painstaking as it may be for Romney to endure a L.A.-based comedian’s countless tweets and re-tweets poking fun at the entire campaign, political jokes do not break any ToS statutes.
To view an infographic for Barracuda Labs’ complete report, please click here.