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How To Spot And Outfake Bogus Twitter Followers

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If you're on Twitter, you might want to think twice before bragging about all those followers you've been racking up. Some of the people who follow you might be fake — and there are now websites designed to expose them.

NPR's product manager for social media, Kate Myers, talks to Tell Me More's Michel Martin about how to spot fake accounts, why they might be following you and what you can do to stop them.


Interview Highlights

On tallying fake Twitter followers

These apps look at a sample of your followers ... for accounts that either have a very few number of followers or a very few number of tweets, and they say those accounts are probably fake. They look at other accounts that haven't tweeted in the recent past, and they say maybe these accounts were active and were real at one point but are no longer.

And they look at the rest of the followers, and they say these are people that are active and are interested in what you have to say — and those are the "good" accounts.

On @TellMeMoreNPR's followers

I ran, in preparation for this, a couple of NPR's accounts through one of the tools provided by a company called StatusPeople. I ran my account, I ran Tell Me More and I ran NPR's Code Switch account, and I found that all three of our accounts actually have a very high percentage of real "good" followers.

And the reason I would say for that is that we actually participate in conversation. We pay attention to the issues that matter to us. So this week, you guys have been talking about Latinos on social media and Latinos in the media in general, you spent a lot of time talking about education, and you guys actually participate in the conversation.

We have a couple accounts — for instance, NPR News and NPR — that just do more broadcasting of the news. They don't do as much conversation among the followers, and so we found that those accounts have a higher percentage of fake and inactive followers, closer to 46 percent (for @NPR) or 35 percent (for @NPR News) "good" followers.

On how to spot a fake account

People do definitely pay people to follow them to pump up their numbers. Websites like fiverr.com sell 1,000 fake followers for $5. So these companies will actually create fake Twitter accounts that follow a bunch of people and may put out some fake tweets to show that they're "real." But if they're not really followed by that many other people, then chances are you can take a look at them and say those are actually fake Twitter accounts.

I can say that at NPR, we have not bought any followers for any of our accounts. ... Fake followers follow a bunch of accounts to try to pretend that they are legitimate accounts.

On measuring Twitter reach

When we take a look at the quality of accounts on Twitter, we still take a look at the number of followers as a proxy for how much impact they have. Where I would like to see us go is actually measuring success based on what impact you have on the conversation, not how many followers you have.

So you'd take a look at who are you talking to, who's talking back to you, who is retweeting you, who is sharing your information, or who is sharing what you have to say.

On avoiding spam and other impostors

Twitter has always had a problem with spam. In fact, the last Twitter chat that we did — for Tell Me More, I should say, the NPR Ed Chat a few weeks ago — we found it got popular enough that people that were actually selling Twitter followers started spamming the Twitter hashtag for NPR Ed Chat.

So we found that some of these fake accounts exist to promote other products on Twitter, in an attempt to get people like me and people like you to click on them, or buy, or potentially even give away our personal information, and then be turned into spambots ourselves.

There are tools out there that allow you to block some of these fake followers, but I'll tell you what I do. ... When I see followers that are very obviously spambots or fake and I get a notification that they're following me, I'll often block them or report them to Twitter.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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