riddled with bots, despite its efforts to block people who create and sell fake armies of followers to those who want to appear to be more popular than they are, according to the Wall Street Journal.
This summer, there were 20 million fake accounts for sale on Twitter, the WSJ says. The paper has previously noted that even some mainstream media brands, like Mashable, appear to be followed by large armies of bots.
The quality of Twitter’s userbase is the one issue that the company seems unable to solve. Business Insider reported earlier this month that 651 million people have opened accounts on Twitter and then abandoned them; a number far greater than the 232 million “monthly active users” the company reports in its SEC disclosures. The company publicly discloses that about 5% of its user base is fake.
The WSJ says:
“Twitter is where many people get news,” says Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. “If what is trending on Twitter is being faked by robots, people need to know that. This will and should undermine trust.”
Twitter goes to lengths to thwart fake accounts. It recently prevented account holders from following or unfollowing other users in bulk — meaning that a human must now laboriously click on each user they want to follow.
But that hasn’t crimped the business of Twitter bot wrangler Jim Vidmar, who manages 10,000 bots for about 50 clients from a base in Las Vegas. Even after Twitter went to war against bots, Vidmar bounced back:
… Mr. Vidmar and others say the underground market quickly adapted. The researchers’ system flagged accounts with incomplete profiles, no pictures, and little activity. In response, Mr. Vidmar says suppliers now fill out more account details, add pictures, and tweet from the accounts before selling them.
That drove up the cost of fake accounts. But marketers and researchers say the black market is again thriving.
… In September, Mr. Vidmar used software to follow more than 100,000 Twitter users in a week for the Australian rock band The Contagious; that boosted the band’s following by 20,000.
The band has a “verified” account, meaning it has taken extra steps to prove to Twitter that the account is real.