Bunch of phonies: study looks at politicians’ fake Twitter followers

Politicians take pride in social media savvy but a new study shows that their techno-bravado may be misplaced. In the case of Twitter, the study shows that around 40 percent of the “people” following Congress are fake and inactive accounts.

The findings come at a time when researchers are scrutinizing the growing underground economy of buying and selling Twitter followers. The politicians’ fake followers are no surprise but the new report, summarized by The Hill, has some fun details like:

  • Barack Obama has more fake followers than Mitt Romney
  • Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who won a social media competition among House Democrats, has the most fake followers: 82 percent
  • Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are the runners up.

The presence of fake followers doesn’t necessarily mean dishonesty — the fakes latch onto all sorts of popular accounts, including GigaOM’s, for marketing and other purposes. The real transgression is purchasing fake followers to convey popularity. The desire, though, is understandable: does a representative want to be the one with fewest followers in Congress?

Twitter already works to snuff out the bots. In the future, it will be interesting to see if it increase these efforts or decides to tolerate them as part of Twitter’s economic ecosystem.

The fake phenomenon also raises the question of how to value followers for marketing purposes — in the widely reported PhoneDog lawsuit, a company is claiming that followers are worth up to $2.50 a piece.

(Image by Katherine00 via Shutterstock)