I understand what I gain from the people I follow on Twitter, but I'm not sure what having a lot of followers conveys. It's a crude proxy for popularity, at best. It also seems to be an input for other crude measures of influence.
Maybe it helps sell things. If you have a message and a large set of followers, it's undoubtedly easier to get the word out. Whatever the strategy, though, you'd like your followers to actually follow you.
So it was strange to read that the number of Twitter followers for presidential candidate Mitt Romney had jumped 116,000 overnight (to 790,000) in one day. At arsTechnica, Dan Goodin noted:
"The infusion on July 21 represented a 17-percent spike in accounts following Romney. A quarter of those new accounts were less than four days old, and 23 percent of them had never issued a single tweet. Ten percent have since been suspended by Twitter for unspecified reasons."
Goodin points out that the traffic, likely bought through accounts that were violating Twitter's terms of service, could have been the handiwork of the account owner or someone looking to disrupt things over at the Romney camp. Maybe we can check to see where Donald Segretti is these days.
Whoever started the Twitter-bots in motion might have tried to aim higher. It's an election that will require 50 million or more individual votes to win, and the two main candidates are raising a combined $200 million a month to win electoral votes in something like seven battleground states. Spending $20,000 to add a bunch of fake accounts seems like the kind of waste most of us could agree can be eliminated.
Like paid positive book reviews, the ability to add and find out that someone has added a high volume of fake accounts signals a new marketing reality. On the web, the better antidote to squirrelly behavior may be the kind of disclosure that landed @mittromney on the front page of arsTechnica for a day.