U.S. Markets closed

There Are 20 Million Fake Users On Twitter, And Twitter Can't Do Much About Them

Jim Edwards
New Twitter Logo Alyssa Milano post this photo on Twitter.com with the caption: So... if you turn the new Twitter logo upside-down, it's Batman. Supplied by WENN.com - 08.06.12 WENN does not claim any ownership including but not limited to Copyright or License in the attached material. Any downloading fees charged by WENN are for WENN's services only, and do not, nor are they intended to, convey to the user any ownership of Copyright or License in the material. By publishing this material you expressly agree to indemnify and to hold WENN and its directors, shareholders and employees harmless from any loss, claims, damages, demands, expenses (including legal fees), or any causes of action or allegation against WENN arising out of or connected in any way with publication of the material.


There are about 20 million fake users on Twitter, The New York Times says. Twitter has a total of more than 500 million users, which would mean that ~4 percent of all Twitter accounts are bogus.

Fake Twitter followers have become big business. Mitt Romney was accused of buying 117,000 fake followers to make himself look more viral during the last presidential election. Newt Gingrich was accused of doing the same thing in 2011.

 The Times reports:

The average price for 1,000 fake followers is $18, according to one study by Barracuda Labs. Mr. Stroppa and Mr. De Micheli said some sellers bragged that they made $2 and $30 per fake account. A conservative estimate, they said, was that fake Twitter followers offered potential for a $40 million to $360 million business.

... The most coveted fake accounts tweet (or retweet) constantly, have profile pictures and complete bios, and some even link to Web sites that they claim belong to them. But in many cases, a close look reveals that some of the accounts were set up purely to retweet material from specific sites.

Twitter has sued five companies that create and sell fake accounts. The Times also reported that tech news site The Next Web created a piece of software that made it easier for otherwise inactive accounts to auto-tweet its stories. (Here's one.) TNW CEO Zee Kane said the company discontinued the project several months ago because it didn't add quality traffic.

The worst part: Jim Prosser, a spokesman for Twitter, says that about 40 percent of all Twitter users look like fake accounts because they only follow people and never tweet themselves. (Prosser's mom, for instance).

Also, people are allowed to sign up for multiple Twitter accounts and use them for different purposes, he says. Twitter, in other words, can't do a great deal about clever fakes: “It’s a hard problem,” Prosser told the Times.

More From Business Insider