Just the other day we had a situation that went viral in our industry here in South Africa, where someone used a freely available tool that determines whether a person has fake followers or not. The people in question, who were being outed received some horrible PR and are more than likely still dealing with it.
This tool, called Status People, allows you to connect to it and then run a report on any Twitter account. The tool then publishes three categories as percentages: Fake, Inactive and Good. In other words, it determines potentially how many Fake users a certain Twitter account may have following it – this then suggests that a person has done something unethical to drive up their followers with the aim of appearing bigger and better than they might be.
This situation and tool left a bitter taste in my mouth, so I quickly went and had a look at the tool as I wanted to see if they described how the tool works, unfortunately, the explanation isn’t very descriptive:
“We take a sample of your follower data. Up to 500 records depending on how ‘popular’ you are and assess them against a number of simple spam criteria. On a very basic level spam accounts tend to have few or no followers and few or no tweets. But in contrast they tend to follow a lot of other accounts.”
It further goes on to state that, “For those of you with 10,000 followers or less we believe our tool will provide very accurate insight into how many inactive and fake followers you have”.
This made me question the tool immediately as the lack of insight into how the tool works leads me to believe that it was written quickly, “to get it out there” and that their algorithm is no doubt very weak and inaccurate.
I decided to do some investigation around the tool and I noted a number of short-comings:
- The tool only takes a sample of 500 followers!
- Is an account that merely tweets links considered fake?
- Is an account that doesn’t tweet often seen as a fake or inactive?
- Is an account with only a few followers seens as fake?
Never the less, getting back on track, two people were outed as having fake followers and the digital agencies that manage their accounts were being accused of purchasing followers. I don’t appreciate such accusations and I wanted to use some real tools to investigate this further. The SEOmoz community and adjacent communities will be aware of a recent spat about outing and I felt that in light of recent happenings, that I would try to get some closure on this matter and share with others that outing is not professional and that at the very least use tools that are tried and tested.
With SEOmoz’s recent acquisition of FollowerWonk, I decided that I would run these people being outed through the tool and have a look at their followers. My guess was that if someone had bought followers, the dispersion of followers would be all from the same location, rather than spread out across a map. I did exactly this and noticed that their followers were spread out across the globe, which lead me to believe that those using Status People and trying to out people were in fact in the wrong, and it was incredibly unfair of them.
The person in question comes from South Africa, which is where roughly 50% of his followers are from, which makes sense and the rest of his followers are spread out across the globe, rather than lumped into one specific area, which is what happens when you purchase followers online*. It was this very insight that FollowerWonk provided, which allowed me to make up my mind that Barry was certainly not purchasing followers, and is the reason for publishing this post, to show others that we cannot rely on these untested 3rd party applications that plague the Internet.
* Note: I created 3 Twitter accounts, bought followers from three different, yet popular, services and ran them through Status People and FollowerWonk to check, before deleting the accounts.
John Doherty, whom I thoroughly enjoy following, posted an article entitled Do Real Industry Stuff, where he talks about doing real work rather than focusing on scandal and nonsense. His posted was inspired by Wil Reynolds after he gave a talk at Mozcon 2012 entitled, “Do Real Company Stuff”.
In the same light, Use Real Tools!