Well that was interesting. I read this absorbing, insider article in the New Republic (“The Bot Bubble: How Click Farms Have Inflated Social Media Currency”) about the business of selling followers in bulk on Twitter, Instagram, and wherever attention is a kind of currency, as it is for so many of these services. The article is in large part about shops in the Philippines that employ young people for very low wages to create and manage hundreds or thousands of fake Twitter accounts. Like many tech services emerging globally, the details of these click farm businesses and their bosses are seamy, and yet the comparative benefits to their employees can be real.
I was exploring a bit and Googled “buy twitter followers” and then looked at a couple of the firms described, and then, on a whim, bought the cheapest, smallest set of Twitter followers from one of these click farms to see what would happen: 250 followers for 5 dollars. Amazing how easy it is. I paid with Paypal, waited until the very end of the advertised, quickie 48-hour turn-around time, and then all the sudden I could see them streaming into @oeschger, new followers like these below, which have a hasty, ESL look, or else don’t even bother to seem like real accounts:
I could picture the bricks of SIM cards that I guess you need on the supply-side to validate the accounts you follow people with. Could picture some pink-backpack-sporting Philippine girl doing her best to personalize these accounts with…what?..images harvested off of other social networks? Names from public registries or bought on the cheap, perhaps recombined; credos that sound brash enough to both convince and repel. Some profiles are fake hotties. Many are written in Cyrillic. Almost all of the accounts in my batch:
- Have between zero and two followers
- Are following somewhere between 150 and 200 others
- Have tweeted a few dozen times
All of this is data you could use to maybe figure out what sort of numbers these businesses are doing. Some of these services say you can buy 20,000 followers for 50 bucks. So you can get a sense of the scale of these enterprises.
People look at how many others are following you on Twitter. But does anyone look at who is following you, like actually go look at the follower list? It’s not a good look.
Weirdly the number of followers I have changes erratically now, maybe because scores of these accounts are being recognized as fakes and cleared out of the Twitter system. Number of followers has swooped down to near pre-purchase levels, then back up to have something closer to the extra 250 I bought. At the time of this writing, the number of fakes–and it’s pretty easy to spot them–is down from 250 to something below 70, net. But as I get new, real Twitter followers, they appear below this big schmear of fakes, failing to re-legitimize attention being paid. It’s not all fakes! My friends are in there somewhere, below some torrid dog pile!