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SPONSORED BLOG: The Twitter underground economy: A booming business

Jason Ding | Aug. 21, 2012
A study on dealers, abusers and fake Twitter accounts

Statistics of Romney's newest 152,966 Twitter followers(between 21 and 26 July 2012):

  • The number of Romney's followers increased 17 percent (or 116,922) on a single day 21 July 2012, going from 673,002 to 789,924
  • 25 percent of these followers are less than three weeks old (created after 17 July 2012), 80 percent of them are less than three months old
  • 23 percent or about one quarter of these followers have no tweets
  • 10 percent of these accounts have been suspended by Twitter

Based on the above distinguishable features, we believe most of these recent followers of Romney are not from a general Twitter population but most likely from a paid Twitter follower service. Also notice that Romney's newest followers did have few different statistical features than our purchased followers (e.g. much newer than ours), indicating his followers were purchased from a different data resource than ours.

It is important to note that authentication is not required when buying Twitter followers from eBay or other websites. It is possible for anyone to buy followers for other Twitter users. That being said, Romney's newest followers could have been paid for by himself, his associates or by his opponents. So far, there is no feasible way to confirm who is responsible.

Finally, creating fake Twitter accounts and buying/selling followers is against Twitter's ToS, and gradually erodes the overall value of the social network. Twitter has been detecting fake accounts and followings, and suspending them in the last few years. However, if they do not move faster and smarter, these fake accounts will continue to be created, blended into the massive Twitter population, having a greater and greater impact.

This underground Twitter business is just booming.

Jason Ding is a research scientist at Barracuda Labs.

For more information on how to protect your network please go to


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