By: Chris O'Shea
If you're on Twitter and work really hard to gain followers, you're about to become big fans of Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli, two Italian security researchers. The duo recently unearthed the giant money making industry behind paying for Twitter followers. That was interesting enough. That made us want to give the guys a high five. Now Stroppa and Micheli are publicly calling out the celebrities and companies most guilty of paying for followers. This makes us want to stand up and cheer the pair.
Stroppa and Micheli started their investigation by approaching over a dozen companies that advertise fake follower creation. The companies ranged in how they priced their offerings, but in general, the fake followers were sold in packages. So if you wanted 1,000 new electronic "friends," you could pay anywhere from $1 to $5. The more followers you wanted, the more you'd pay. You can see why this shady business is such a money maker. Stroppa and Micheli told the New York Times that a "conservative estimate" was that selling fake followers was a business worth about $360 million.
The crazy thing about these companies is that the bots they sell don't just sit there; they work for you. "The most coveted fake accounts tweet (or retweet) constantly, have profile pictures and complete bios, and some even link to Web sites that they claim belong to them," explained the Times. Now you're wondering, "Who the hell would actually do this? What kind of person or company would think that Twitter followers actually means anything?" Well, Stroppa and Micheli are here to help again.
Stroppa and Micheli called out none other than Diddy and 50 Cent as two of the worst abusers of buying fake followers. In Diddy's case, his account gained over 185,000 followers in one day last year, which represented a 3,000 percent increase from his normal daily gain. He also lost 393, 665 followers in one day. 50 Cent also suddenly gained a ton of followers on day (190,342). This isn't possible. Of course when the Times asked both parties for a comment, neither returned the paper's calls.
It's not just celebrities buying followers. Companies like Pepsi and Mercedes have also experienced highly unusual followings and unfollowings. Jeff Dahncke, a spokesman for Pepsi, attempted to brush it off by explaining, "The spikes correlate with paid activations with Twitter — such as promoted Tweets — that were designed to boost our following around key brand activations." But Stroppa and Micheli called BS. "The peaks are very high even through traditional advertising, and the shapes of the curves don’t really convince us," said Stroppa.
Stroppa and Micheli should keep this up. Keep calling out celebrities for acting like such losers. Does Diddy really think he's not famous enough? He really needs to buy followers? It's pathetic and sort of embarrassing. But then again, so is Diddy's music. So maybe it's not that surprising after all.
[Pic via Flickr - Pete Simon]