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Brands pay Twitter to falsely appear in your following list

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A Twitter advertising technique is perturbing people. Promoted brands like MasterCard and IFC are appearing in the list of accounts some users follow, even if they don’t actually follow them.

Sources familiar with the company’s advertising strategy tell me this has been occurring since early 2013, but the public has only just now cottoned onto it thanks to actor William Shatner (of Star Trek fame). Shatner brought attention to it after he saw that “MasterCard” appeared in his following list despite the fact that he didn’t follow it. He did a little investigation and discovered that the same promoted account appeared on Dwayne Johnson’s follower list, looking a little out of place given “The Rock” only followed one other account.

Twitter has long been a proponent of native advertising, making its money off promotions that look like a regular part of the Twitter landscape (instead of, say, a banner ad). People are accustomed to promoted accounts appearing in their regular feed and promoted hashtags in the trending topics section. But sticking brands in the list of who a user actually follows is a departure from the above examples.

By making it look like someone follows an account that they don’t, it sends a false signal that said user cares about that brand. Although the brands are marked as “promoted,” it’s not necessarily clear that the user in question doesn’t actually follow the brand.

There’s ethical considerations to be had. Hypothetical examples: What if you’re vegan and don’t want people to think you’re following Burger King? Or you’re the CEO of Visa and don’t want people thinking you’re following MasterCard? Or you’re a pro-life activist and don’t want people thinking you’re following Planned Parenthood?

Once again, it appears Twitter’s product managers fundamentally don’t understand the way people use its application.



4 Responses to “Brands pay Twitter to falsely appear in your following list”

  1. No, I do not want crap ads in my twitter feed. And is it my imagination there are more and more of them?

    And no, I do not want fake followers.

    I usually ignore, or report as spam and block.

    But occasionally I hijack.

    Starbucks had a promoted hashtag in the lead up up Christmas. I simply used to highlight their tax dodging.

    Three network had the gall to impose dumb tweets. Each time they did, I responsed with how crap their network was.

    Guess what, these tweets dried up.

    What it shows is a fundamental lack of understanding how users use twitter. We do not want to receive this shit, if we did we would follow you.

    And if you have to promote your tweets, it shows you have nothing worthwhile to say.

  2. This isn’t native advertising as thought of by the rest of the industry. It’s close to the antithesis of native advertising in two ways: it’s changing the product to fit the ad, and in order to deliver the ad, it’s trading away trust in the publisher (Twitter) as providing reliable data.

    A podcast analogy: buying a host’s personal endorsement of a product they’ve never used, bookended by 60 seconds of silence for artificial emphasis. There’s nothing native about it.