Followers or phantoms?

Why would someone in Texas, barely active on Twitter and seemingly with no India connection favourite a tweet about Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya and Narendra Modi?

October 13, 2013 02:39 am | Updated November 16, 2021 08:16 pm IST - New Delhi:

A couple of weeks ago, this correspondent tweeted about Bharatiya Jan Sangh ideologue Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya's birth anniversary with a mention of BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

Within seconds, the tweet was favourited by a user from Texas, US, who had 16 tweets, zero followers and was following three people, including Mr. Modi.

Why would someone in Texas, barely active on Twitter and seemingly with no India connection favourite a tweet about Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya and Narendra Modi?

Was it because, a) he suddenly and just for one tweet, got fascinated with the Indian political right or b) he was paid to do so?

With more than two and half million followers (and counting), Gujarat’s Chief Minister is a social media celebrity. Reams of pages have been written about Mr. Modi's online savvy and his faithful, ever increasing social media following.

According to Twitter Counter, a website that generates and tracks Twitter statistics, Mr. Modi added over 7,337 followers on an average per day. Even this is conservative, because it keeps moving up - after four hours, it stood at 8,181.

But there are questions being asked this impressive virtual following. During a random check, on 1st October, 4:31 pm, the 10 latest followers on his Twitter account had zero tweets (except one who had three) and 0-7 followers.

These included names like lutfije istrefi, Michaele Brocious, Shantelle Enterline and Marlana Holstrom, with the last one deleted by Twitter within minutes of “it” joining Mr. Modi's army of followers. One of them had a username comprising random characters: @Gwinhnfdh.

Many users follow celebrity accounts, mainly from the USA. The list includes Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Pink, Charlie Sheen, Barack Obama and, Narendra Modi.

According to Wired magazine, “Promotional tweets and the default “egg” avatar are hallmarks of phony accounts”.

Many of Mr. Modi's online followers meet all these criteria. But he is not the only one with a legion of Twitter followers with questionable credentials. Online analysis of almost all Twitter celebrities reveals a similar picture. Even accounts of professionals in various fields with a few thousand followers have a significant percentage of ‘fakes’ making up the list.

Last year, US presidential candidate Mitt Romney was in the news after he gained about 117,000 Twitter followers within 24 hours and was accused of “purchasing” followers in bulk, a charge his office refuted.

More recently, an analysis by the Daily Mail declared US president Barack Obama “the undisputed king of fake followers”. The survey, which included Democratic and Republican party leaders from Washington DC, found US Vice-President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama making podium finishes, coming in second and third respectively.

Tools to detect ‘fake’ followers

Several online tools, like Twitter Audit, Fake Follower Check of Status People and Socialbakers, among others, claim to provide an analysis of any given Twitter account, with the percentage of what they describe as ‘fake’, ‘inactive’ and ‘good’ followers.

A query on with Mr. Modi's username returned these results about his Twitter followers last week: Fake-76 per cent, Inactive-18 per cent, Good-6 per cent. Similarly, Twitter Audit gives Mr. Modi an audit score of 32 per cent with 322,788 ‘real’ and 685,925 ‘fake’ followers. A graphic accompanying this article shows the score for personalities such as Shashi Tharoor, Sushma Swaraj and others.

Status People, which provides Fakers, another popular tool, says “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”.

As for the accuracy of these statistics, Status People admittedly provides “a very accurate insight” into the number of fake and inactive followers for users with 50,000 followers or less.

“If you're very, very 'popular' the tool will still provide good insight but may better reflect your current follower activity rather than your whole follower base,” says Status People.

Socialbakers' fake follower tool decides whether a follower account is fake/empty if the ratio of following to followers of a user is 50:1, if the user has never tweeted, if an account is more than two months old and still has a default profile image, if the user has not filled in either bio or location and still follows several accounts etc.

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