Exposing Social Media’s Black Market: Buying Your Popularity on Twitter & Facebook

Inplace #2

Think it doesn’t work? According to Gizmodo, it does, but you might be ruining your online reputation in the process.

Just do a quick online search for “buy Twitter followers” and you will discover over a dozen companies that sell Twitter followers as well as Facebook likes and YouTube views. When I ran the search, my top results included InterTwitter.com, FanMeNow.com, BuyTwitterFollow.com, and tollowers.com. The process for signing up is simple: Just enter your Twitter handle along with credit card number and, with a few clicks, see your number of followers increase dramatically in just a couple days.

You might be surprised at how many celebrities, politicians and normal folk might have already jumped on the bandwagon. Back in July, the topic of fake Twitter followers made the news when Mitt Romney’s Twitter following jumped by more than 100,000 over a matter of days — a much quicker rate than in the previous couple months. As a result, a flurry of news articles attempted to expose the practice of buying followers. “Romney Twitter account gets upsurge in fake followers, but from where?” read a headline on the NBC News Technolog blog.” While the Romney camp denied buying followers, the sudden surge in numbers is something that cannot quite be ignored.

Today buying followers is as easy as ever, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. A new app from StatusPeople now uncovers fakes and can make it a costly decision to your online reputation. According to an article in Fast Company, the main goal of StatusPeople’s web app is to find out “how many fake followers you and your friends have.”

StatusPeople, which makes social-media management software, released the tool as a side project in July and marketed the product to help shed light on a user’s follower quality. How does it work? The app analyzes a sample of a person’s followers and determines just how many are actual people as opposed to bots. Clearly, this has the potential to embarrass anyone who has a history of buying his popularity on social media channels.

Twitter followers are sold in a number of different ways but here are two of the main methods: “Targeted” followers are uncovered using algorithmic software that seeks out Twitter users with similar interests and follows them in hopes of being re-followed. “Generated” followers are from Twitter accounts that are either inactive or created by bot computers that are not even tied to a real, living person.

I reached out to several of the offending companies mentioned above to inquire about a media interview, but I received no response. Crickets. Some websites even had a media contact form that I filled out diligently in hopes of getting someone from these companies to comment on the record about how this is indeed an ethical business. Needless to say, the act of buying followers is a sketchy practice and not one that people should enter into lightly. That is, unless you are already a well-established celebrity or politician aiming to “one-up” your competitors or boost your to image and online profile before the next election.