One of the biggest problems facing social networks like Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) is fake user accounts. This is a problem because it greatly affects the value advertisers gain from marketing on their platforms. According to Jeff Elder of The Wall Street Journal (via Yahoo! Finance), fake user accounts are a massive problem on Twitter especially, in spite of the company’s recent efforts to weed them out.
Buying and selling robot accounts on Twitter
Elder spoke with Jim Vidmar, who deals with online vendors who create and sell fake Twitter accounts. Vidmar makes money by programming the accounts to follow people who pay him to boost their reputation and standing on the micro-blogging site. The fake accounts also re-tweet the posts of those they follow, further increasing the reach of his clients. Vidmar says he has been doing them for the last six years and now handles 10,000 different robot Twitter accounts for about 50 clients.
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Some celebrities actually pay people like Vidmar to give them fake followers. Hmm. Wonder how many of Kim Kardashian’s almost 19 million followers are fake. Sadly, there could be that many people actually interested in what the socialite does.
But I digress.
Why Twitter may have a harder time with fake accounts
Elder suggests that Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) could have a more difficult time keeping fake accounts under control because it allows users to have multiple accounts and doesn’t “require” that people use their real names. Twitter just prohibits “mass account creation” and selling or buying of either followers or accounts. For a while, the company was apparently able to block 95% of new fake accounts after applying a new filter. However, it is unclear whether this filter still works.
A spokesperson for Twitter did call fake accounts “a difficult problem” but said they have both “automated and manual controls” to spot and suspend spam accounts. The company posted a job listing for a manager for its anti-spam products.
Will Twitter win?
Vidmar told Elder that Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) has suspended his fake accounts on that social network and threatened legal action against him. However, he says Twitter hasn’t contacted or warned him about his activities. He did say the company has either deleted or suspended a number of personal accounts which he used to tweet about his business.
Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) suggested in recent regulatory filings that less than 5% of its 230 million active accounts are fake, although independent researchers suspect that number is higher. According to Elder, two researchers claim to have found 20 million fake Twitter accounts for sale over the summer, which would add up to almost 9% of the company’s monthly active users. The researchers also reportedly found software available for purchase which enable spammers to build unlimited fake accounts.