Two days ago, generally overlooked presidential candidate Newt Gingrich suggested that he should be taken more seriously by the media because he has six times more Twitter followers than all the other candidates combined. We immediately assumed that this was just one of those things Gingrich lies about and hopes nobody double-checks, like that time he slammed Paul Ryan's debt plan and then claimed he was never referring to Paul Ryan's debt plan.
But, amazingly, it's almost true! Newt Gingrich has a whopping 1,325,903 followers on Twitter. Michele Bachmann, between her congressional and campaign accounts, has 90,037. Mitt Romney has 62,824. Herman Cain has 51,850. Tim Pawlenty has 45,366. Ron Paul, considering his vast Internet following, has a surprisingly low 18,678. Rick Santorum has 13,339. Gary Johnson has 9,642. Jon Huntsman has 9,632 between two accounts. Put all the non-Gingrich candidates together, and they have a total of 301,368 followers — not quite one-sixth of Gingrich's followers, but less than one-fourth, which is still pretty shocking.
Or is it more pathetic than shocking? A former staffer tells Gawker:
Newt employs a variety of agencies whose sole purpose is to procure Twitter followers for people who are shallow/insecure/unpopular enough to pay for them. As you might guess, Newt is most decidedly one of the people to which these agencies cater.
About 80 percent of those accounts are inactive or are dummy accounts created by various "follow agencies," another 10 percent are real people who are part of a network of folks who follow others back and are paying for followers themselves (Newt's profile just happens to be a part of these networks because he uses them, although he doesn't follow back), and the remaining 10 percent may, in fact, be real, sentient people who happen to like Newt Gingrich. If you simply scroll through his list of followers you'll see that most of them have odd usernames and no profile photos, which has to do with the fact that they were mass generated. Pathetic, isn't it?
Now, there are certainly reasons to believe this could be true. Gingrich does have a big head, and somewhere inside that big head, a large ego.
But there's another, more plausible reason that Gingrich has so many followers: As Hot Air points out, back in 2009, Gingrich was one of the "suggested users" featured by Twitter, which meant that many new users followed his account based on Twitter's own recommendation. As the New York Times reported in January of 2009:
In the last few months [Twitter] has plucked a few hundred users from a sea of more than 30 million and put them on its A-list, deeming them particularly worthy of being followed.
In separating the wheat from the chaff, Twitter has become a kingmaker of sorts, conferring online stardom to a mix of writers, gadget geeks, political commentators and entrepreneurs.
After being named to the “suggested user” list, Twitterers can gain more than 500,000 followers who get their brief updates via a cellphone or the Internet.
If this is the real explanation for Gingrich's oddly vast Twitter following, it's nothing to brag about, but it's nothing to be ashamed about either. And it could mean Gawker was had.