Does Barack Obama have more fake followers on Twitter than Mitt Romney? A new app from London-based social management company StatusPeople suggests POTUS might have a higher percentage of faux followers than his opponent in this year's presidential election. But before you send The Commander in Chief an angry tweet, be aware that the app's creators don't claim their tool is totally accurate yet.
(You can learn more about the Fakers app in Amber Mac's Fast Company post).
The StatusPeople Fakers app runs a scan on a user's most recent followers (up to 10,000) and attempts to determine how many of those followers might be fake. "On a very basic level spam accounts tend to have few or no followers and few or no tweets. But in contrast they tend to follow a lot of other accounts," the app's creators wrote in their FAQ.
According to the app, Barack Obama's Twitter audience is 41% fake, and 29% of the accounts who follow him are inactive. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney's Twitter follower base is 12% fake and 30% of the accounts that follow him are inactive, according to the app.
While the app is a clever use of the Twitter API, it only surveys a sample of followers for users with more than 10,000 followers—it's not a comprehensive look. "If you're very 'popular' the tool will still provide good insight but may better reflect your current follower activity rather than your whole follower base," the app's creators write on the site. In other words, if a user was recently followed by an influx of Twitter bots, their fake follower rate might be inflated in StatusPeople's results.
On the difference between Obama and Romney's fake follower stats, "I doubt it has much to do with their policy differences or how many babies they kiss," StatusPeople founder Robert Waller tells Fast Company via email, adding, "our tool is less accurate for those with large follower bases so I imagine the difference is negligible in reality."
Not all Twitter accounts that have few followers and few tweets, and follow a lot of other accounts, are fake. Some people use Twitter just for reading, not for tweeting. That said, StatusPeople set up a Twitter account and bought some Twitter followers to test their tool, and found their fake-follower identification margin of error is about 5%.
In any case, the app is entertaining, a reminder that we shouldn't take follower counts at face value and that when it comes to social media, quality always counts more than quantity. The app's creators have smart plans to improve their service by building a tool that will allow users to see how fake-follower scores change over time, and make the scoring system more accurate for accounts with large follower bases. "So hopefully within a week or two you will be able to run a more accurate analysis of Obama and Romney to see if there is a significant difference and then we may be able to properly question why this is," Waller wrote.
Here's the app's take on some other Twitter accounts from a variety of industries:
- Lady Gaga (28,355,129 followers): 43% fake, 34% inactive
- Justin Bieber (26,582,874 followers): 31% fake, 33% inactive
- Cristiano Ronaldo (12,367,632 followers): 52% fake, 32% inactive
- Kanye West (8,293,114 followers): 36% fake, 34% inactive
- Snooki (5,424,072 followers): 17% fake, 40% inactive
- Perez Hilton (5,401,665 followers): 17% fake, 50% inactive
- Jack Dorsey (2,086,805 followers): 15% fake, 40% inactive
- Biz Stone (1,946,554 followers): 16%, 54% inactive
- Mindy Kaling (1,821,893 followers): 23% fake, 42% inactive
- Fred Wilson (227,241 followers): 8% fake, 30% inactive
- Eric Ripert (92,897 followers): 11% fake, 41% inactive
- Caterina Fake (73,835 followers): 5% fake, 33% inactive
- Eric Ries (67,194 followers): 5% fake, 21% inactive
- Anthony de Rosa (33,770 followers): 6% fake, 32% inactive
- My Twitter account (8,000 followers) 11% fake, 25% inactive
Do high-profile people attract Twitter spammers more frequently than us plebeians? "Yes it would seem that way," wrote Waller. "From our initial analysis of this issue the more followers you have the more likely you are to attract fake or inactive accounts. The reasons for this obviously need some research. But from the data we collect over 30% of those accounts with 500,000 followers or more return a poor score from our App. Where as less than 1% of those with 5,000 followers or less, the majority of Twitter users, generate an equivalent score."
Are the rich and famous bot-magnets because of their celebrity, or are some of them engaging in more insidious behavior - like buying fake fans? Mitt Romney was recently accused of buying Twitter followers, but his camp denied the accusation.