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Buying Twitter Followers? Beware StatusPeople, The Service That Exposes Social Media's Black Market

Buying Twitter followers is cheap and easy. But a new app from StatusPeople that uncovers fakes can make it costly—very costly—to your digital reputation.

Late Sunday afternoon my friend @caronsue (2477 followers) posted a photo on Twitter displaying her StatusPeople "Faker Score," revealing that 96% of her followers are good, 3% inactive, and only 1% fake. While 2011 was the year of Klout, the popular service that calculates a user's online influence, this new tool could prove to be even more disruptive—and a blow to a user's credibility if they try to game their popularity in the digital space.

The main goal of StatusPeople's web app is to find out "how many fake followers you and your friends have." The company, which creates social-media management software, released the tool as a side project in July to shed light on a user's follower quality. While the makers emphasize on their site that their metrics aren't perfect (for example, they only analyze a sample of your followers and, moreover, it's possible for anyone to purchase Twitter followers for another user), there is no doubt that the results have the potential to humiliate anyone who pays money for subscribers—a dodgy practice that takes just a few minutes.

To further explain the "Dark World of Paid Followers," blogger Zach Bussey created a new Twitter profile this past weekend and started buying subscribers, amassing more than 26,000 new followers overnight. While quickly growing follower counts might cause Twitter envy at first glance, the majority of these purchased accounts were clearly spam accounts; as Bussey describes, "they sorta look real, but not really…most of
their usernames are a jumble of letters."

According to Fast Company's recent Social Media Road Map, it costs a mere $77 to buy 5,000 Twitter follower bots at buytwitterfollowers.org. Using usocial.net, a more substantial fee of $617 will get you 4,000 Facebook fan bots. Earlier this month, Facebook admitted it has 83 million fake accounts and dupes—so Twitter isn't the only platform plagued by imposters.

While not all fake online accounts are necessarily malicious, the social media black market is alive and well. Why now? Everyday people and businesses, wannabe (and real) celebrities and politicians, are scrambling to get Internet famous, overnight. It doesn't take a social media strategist to tell you that this get-famous-fast approach is doomed. Not only will these followers prove irrelevant when you're measuring meaningful conversation and fans, you'll likely be found out.

Do a quick Google search for "Mitt Romney Twitter Followers" and you'll find dozens of articles discussing how his follower numbers grew suspiciously. Security firm Barracuda Labs created an infographic based on its research breaking down Romney's newfound Twitter fame, sharing that one in four of Romney's new Twitter accounts had never sent a single tweet. No matter how the presidential candidate got these new followers, it doesn't look good from the outside (although his Faker Score is currently sitting pretty at just 12% of 839,719 followers).

On the topic of politicians allegedly buying followers, last month StatusPeople called out a UK-based politician for her recent surge in followers, claiming that 97 percent of her new subscribers were fakes, a story that made for a humiliating headline or two ("Louise Mensch
gains 40,000 'robot' Twitter followers
," wrote The Telegraph). Mensch, an author and Conservative Party MP, tweeted that these additional accounts were spambots and that she needed a better filter (incidentally, according to The Telegraph, her 66,000 Twitter followers jumped to more than 105,000 in just a few hours).

The Internet has always excelled as a platform to afford people insta-fame, but the online audience is equally as keen to take this person down if they smell a rat in their digital midst. Within the first few weeks of StatusPeople's fake follower app launching, more than 30,000 people have signed up, demonstrating our collective desire to find out if a person's follower number is in fact the real deal.

To date, I've run a number of accounts through the service, and at first glance it appears that if your faker numbers are below 20 percent, you're doing OK. The more followers you have, the higher the fake percentage due to more exposure to spam bots. Interestingly,
from what I've seen on blogs and in my own experience, the folks with faker percentages hovering 30-40 percent and higher are most often people you've rarely heard about. In my case, I discovered some lesser-known bloggers and social media marketing types—who shall remain nameless—with some nasty faker scores. Bussey's findings were similar, using the tool to call out Senior VP of Shop.com @LorenRidinger—her 374,000 came out 81% fake—and rapper @ThatsShawtyLo, whose 203,000 followers came out 81% fake. In contrast, @fastcompany had 7 percent fakes (based on 539,806 followers) and I'm doing okay with 10% fakes (based on 73,034 followers).

Will StatusPeople's app put an end to digital fakers? Not likely, but it's certainly going to cause some serious Twitter shame, and make users think twice before buying followers. Consider yourself warned.

Read more about fake followers of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Lady Gaga, and others.

[Image: Flickr user Christophe Verdier]

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