Twitter – the bot problem and what you can do

Twitter Turnips

Fake Followers (Twitter Turnips)

Twitter can be an amazingly effective medium for your company to reach more potential customers and engage with your target audience in a meaningful way. It is also a place where your business can stand out and differentiate itself from its competitors.

For Twitter to work you need to be interacting with real people, not fake accounts. A menace in social media is fake or cloned accounts. These accounts are actually bots and by some accounts there could be as many as 43 million on Twitter alone.


twitter turnip

You have probably come across offers to get an instant boost to your following for a fee. The New York Times recently published a piece entitled: The Fake Follower Factory: It looks into the industry that has grown up around selling fake followers to people.

Bots were created to perform repetitive tasks on the net and now have the ability to engage and act in a pseudo-human way. These fake accounts can not only ‘follow’ and ‘like’, but also interact with other Twitter users’ posts and messages.

As such they have the ability to wield great influence by, for example, spreading unsubstantiated information and supporting certain inflammatory ideas. They are also being used for large-scale spamming and the facilitation of scams.

As the NYT article says “Celebrities, athletes, pundits and politicians have millions of fake followers.” Some desperate enough to want to imply credibility may think “why not?”

What you can do

People are now getting wise to the fact that those Twitter accounts with a very large following might not necessarily be genuinely popular. These bots are a considerable nuisance as they provide no actual business value and congest your Twitter stream so it’s harder to pay attention to the followers which really matter.

So what are the options if you want to ensure you are following and being followed by genuine accounts?


Some have turned to TrueTwit, a “validation” service for Twitter which works by checking to see if someone who wants to follow you is someone you already follow. If not it sends them a direct message on Twitter. This message asks the follower to complete validation, either by signing-up or basically completing a Captcha. If the follower completes the validation process then TrueTwit notifies you that they are probably real. If they do not, TrueTwit doesn’t give them the OK. Either way, it is left to you to ultimately decide whether you allow the follower access.

There are problems with this: not everyone checks their messages on Twitter, and secondly, many don’t want to have to jump through hoops just to follow someone on Twitter. In other words, you could be blocking genuine followers.

Since you need to make the decision anyway it is good practice to make yourself aware of some of the signs that an account is actually a bot.  Look out for accounts which are following hundreds but have very few or no followers.  Another giveaway is the content. Do the photos look like stock photos?  Then it’s probably a fake account. If there is nothing written in the profile section or they repeat the same tweets incessantly – probably a fake account; or boring, and either way, probably best to get rid.  Another red flag is an account with an inordinate amount of tweets. At the end of the day, Twitter is about connecting with people you would like to know. So it is worth taking some time to consider each account you do follow and remember quality is always better than quantity.

Check your Twitter Turnips:

Do you want to check how many Twitter turnips you have?

This Fakers app allows you to check the status of your followers and other accounts.


Change your Settings:

There is a simple change you can make to your settings to verify all future followers.  You can access this in your Twitter settings under Privacy and Security.  You will then be able to check each account, using the indicators I have detailed above, as being valuable to your social media strategy.

Twitter settings
Twitter privacy settings