A few days ago, in the Wall Street Journal, Jeff Elder described bought followers on Twitter, and those who create and purchase them. One of the examples he cited was an Australian Rock Band, The Contagious, noting that “In September, Mr. Vidmar used software to follow more than 100,000 Twitter users in a week for the Australian rock band The Contagious; that boosted the band’s following by 20,000.” With such a public admission, and the means to examine it (the accession curve methodology described previously), we couldn’t resist taking a look. So, what do The Contagious’s followers look like?
In short? Suspicious. As we previously noted with Tony Abbott during the Australian Election campaign, those periods which have substantial white space represent periods of time when virtually all of the new followers of a particular user registered their account over the same period of time.
Not only do The Contagious have a suspicious first 20,000 followers, but further batches of 5000 between approximately 23,000 and 28,000 and 54,000 and 59,000, as well as about 30,000 between 60,000 and 90,000. Even after this, 10,000 between around 110,000 and 120,000 appear suspicious, and there is also a final burst of suspicious looking followers to get the band over the 200,000 follower mark, from around 190,000 to 200,000. All told, around 80,000 of the bands over 320,000, or 25%, appear to have been acquired illegitimately. We can’t say definitively that they were purchased, but they certainly do not appear natural.
I suspect the band, and/or their management, are none to impressed that they were outed in the Wall Street Journal , but this analysis shows how any analysis of the followers of Twitter users will identify suspicious patterns where they exist; something Twitter certainly have the capacity to do, but would need to automate in order to catch these accounts on a large scale.
Finally, in a brief throwback to my old research in game studies, there’s a series of articles at Eve News 24 which describe botting / real money trading in Eve Online; you’ll note a lot of similarities! I also talked about these in the games context in my DiGRA paper. Interestingly, during the course of my research, CCP – developers of Eve Online – did begin cracking down on these accounts; let’s see if Twitter follower suit.