A lucrative business in bogus accounts has
sprung up around the microblogging site Twitter. For about $18 it's possible to purchase 1,000 Twitter followers, according to a
study by the IT security firm Barracuda Networks.
Twitter followers are members who subscribe to the short text messages, or tweets, of fellow members. There are several reasons why someone might want to purchase fake "followers." For politicians and celebrities it offers a fast way to appear popular. It is also a method of making a product or person known.
One strategy to achieve that is through re-tweets, repeated messages. According to Barracuda Networks' findings it cost $5 to purchase 2,000 re-tweets.
The IT security firm set up three Twitter profiles and purchased between 20,000 and 70,000 followers, without much effort, for the accounts. Their analysis of the fake followers shows that about 60 percent had been registered less than three months previously. Another discovery is that they are following many other Twitter users.
However, that figure is never more than 2,001 as it appears that is the level at which Twitter administrators begin taking a closer look. Twitter is trying to battle the fake followers but is not keeping up with the sheer size of the problem. According to Barracuda Networks, dealers who manage the fake accounts are very careful not to overdo things and provoke the attention of Twitter's administrators.
The issue of fake accounts was recently highlighted after U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney gained about 140,000 new followers on his Twitter account within two days. Immediately there were accusations that the followers had been purchased.
After analyzing the latest 153,000 followers to subscribe to Romney's Twitter feed, Barracuda Networks has concluded that "most of these recent followers are not from the general Twitter population." The IT company found that a quarter of the profiles were less than three weeks old and that about 10 percent had been suspended by Twitter.
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