The #fakefollowers controversy is probably a scam

August began with a sudden jump in my Twitter followers from about 3 364 on 29 July to about 30 000 followers. I found out one morning when Mike Stopforth messaged me and asked me how I managed that? I was more shocked than he was and initially thought a lot of people confused me with someone else.

The closer I looked at blog stats and general interaction on Twitter, the more it looked like the additional followers are not humans but some totally artificial boost in numbers with no value whatsoever. As cool as it is to see such high numbers, it is just that: a number. There are also so many followers that going through them and removing them just isn’t worth the time it would take so I left it and the followers seem to be falling off on their own.

My fake follower infestation

I wasn’t really paying attention to Twitter over the weekend and found out about the #FakeFollowGate saga yesterday afternoon and the allegations that Barry Tuck and Kirsty Bisset, some of the talent behind Gorilla Creative Media, bought followers to boost their follower counts. Of course I took the “responsible route” and fired off a sarcastic tweet suggesting my fake followers could head over to Barry and Kirsty.

That prompted a discussion about these fake followers and I started thinking about what could be behind this. Sure, Barry and Kirsty could, hypothetically, have bought Twitter followers but that is quite a reputational risk for very public marketing people. I might have believed it before but after my own little “acquisition”, it stands to reason that it could have happened to them too. Chatting to them, it certainly seems like they are being targeted in this bizarre scam where someone or something is directing some follower bonnet at them, artificially boosting their numbers. This is what Kirsty’s profile looks like now (she got it down to way under 10 000 last night if I remember correctly):

Kirsty Bisset (KirstyBisset) on Twitter

I can’t think of a direct financial benefit to doing this to someone. It is probably easy to do if you have the right scripting skills (have thousands of fake accounts follow people) but why? One possible culprit is a service that sells a Twitter clean-up and optimisation service. There are paid services that allow you to remove bogus followers and this is a great way to drum up some business – artificially inflate follower numbers, cause some embarrassment and present a cost effective way of fixing the problem. I also thought Twitter itself could be behind this out of a desire to artificially boost user numbers but that is very dodgy and I don’t think Twitter is that bad, yet. So my bet is a service aimed at fixing the problems caused by these “attacks” but how would you identify the culprit?

The result of this is reputational harm for the people affected. Kirsty’s Twitter profile has been closed to public view because she is being repeatedly attacked and her numbers boosted. She and Barry’s reputations have been damaged because of the perception that they paid to boost their followers (totally antithetical to their business offerings which are geared at more meaningful community development efforts) and who knows who else has been a target too.

I took my increased following seriously for about 5 minutes and now, I see them as a bit like fake boobs, except not as much fun.


So what now? For starters, perhaps Kirsty’s and Barry’s critics should consider the possibility they didn’t buy their followers. If you believe I am credible and I am being honest when I say I didn’t buy (or even want) my extra followers, it stands to reason that they may not have either. So before you launch more stupid attacks (yup, a bit like my stupid tweet), think about the harm you could be causing and adopt a more constructive approach instead.

For now, I want to see if the little spam bonnet can get me to 100 000! What the heck! I just want to see what that looks like before they all go away. In the meantime, as far as I am concerned, I have about 3 364 followers, more or less. The rest is fluff.

Photo credit: fake by istolethetv, licensed CC BY 2.0

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