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The Twitter Underground Economy: Buying Followers

By on August 28, 2012


I think many people knows about it but both agencies and marketers seem to agree on keep it hiden.

The Underground Economy of Buying Twitter Followers

The Underground Economy of Buying Twitter Followers

The Study

As part of this study, beginning in May 2012, Barracuda’s team set up three Twitter accounts and purchased between 20,000 and 70,000 Twitter followers for each of them from eBay and another website searched from Google. After collecting these followers’ profiles via Twitter API, as well as additional information from eBay sellers and Google search results, we found many interesting highlights of this business, summarized as follows into 3 categories:

Dealers (those users who create fake accounts and sell followings)
Abusers (those users who bought followers (most of which are fake) in order to look more popular or to use the accounts for selling ads)
Fake Accounts (created by dealers for selling followings or tweets business)

Several quick conclusions about these statistics:

– Dealers are controlling the following speed and total following number of these fake accounts to avoid being suspended by Twitter. Dealers built various business services from the controlled accounts, as every cent is still money, e.g., selling 2000 re-tweets for $5 at here.

– Half of the abusers have 4,000-26,000 followers, which makes them the most likely to be “cheating” group; and 3/4 of Abusers have set a URL in their profiles, meaning they might buy followers for website promotional purposes.

– Fake accounts normally follow a lot of people, but normally no bigger than 2001 followings, indicating Twitter may internally uses this number as a cutoff for abused account detection.
Still, these statistics of fake followers can be easily used for detection purposes. However, Dealers can apply obscure techniques to make them hard to detect, e.g., randomly following some famous and some average people, or posting tweets grabbed from the Twitter stream, etc. This is one reason that the prices of followers vary dramatically on eBay and other online websites, ranging from $2 to $55 per 1,000 followers. The higher the price is, the more real these followers look.

– On the other side, Abusers can try to avoid being caught as well, by buying followers multiple times from different services. For example, since March 2nd 2012, the world’s “Top One” security expert Gregory D. Evans (@GregoryDEvans) seemed to be purchasing 4 times to gain at least 50,000 new followers from several resources, which we do not know. But, by running an overlapping check between his followers and our purchased followers, we found 470 fake accounts shown in both list. Bingo! That is also the **magic** number used in our study to detect all other Abusers.

Source: Barracudaslabs

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