Twitter is a lot of things to a lot of people: a place to mourn, to flirt, to be confused, and, of course, a place to make bank. In a recent column on the Bits blog, we learned that fake Twitter accounts can be quite lucrative to their creators, who sell follows from batches of dummy handles to anyone trying to look more popular on the Internet. According to a report put out by Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli, two Italian security researchers who looked into the trend, this is a multimillion-dollar business.
Here are the most interesting numbers from their two months of research:
- 100,000: the number Mitt Romney’s Twitter following jumped in a matter of days, drawing attention to the fake follower trend.
- 5: the number of days one re-seller's software takes to create up to 100,000 new accounts.
- $1 million: how much fake-account businesses claim they can make in one week.
- 20 million: how many fake follower accounts Stroppa and Micheli estimate there are now.
- 1,000: A typical batch of fake follower accounts is sold between this and one million.
- $18: the average price for 1,000 fake followers.
- $30: the highest amount some sellers brag they make per fake account.
- 17,000: number of times the Twitter account for Cilia Poon has retweeted stories from Next Web.
- 125: how many daily retweets you can get for $150 a month. On the cheaper side, $9 will get you five retweets a day.
- $360 million: highest potential earning Stroppa and Micheli estimate for a fake Twitter business.
- 40: the percentage of real-life Twitter users that only follow but don't tweet, making it difficult to tell them apart from the bots.
According to spokesman Jim Prosser, Twitter takes an active role in fighting these "sources of malicious and fake content," even suing the company responsible for five of the most-used spamming tools on the site last. But the real problem is telling the fake accounts from the real thing: "What looks like a fake account to one individual could actually be someone who is on Twitter purely to follow people — like my mom, who follows me and my brother, doesn’t have a profile bio and has never actually Tweeted herself." We look forward to the day when Twitter is populated only by dead parody accounts, moms, struggling celebrities and their spambot followers, and maybe Donald Trump.