I thought we had all had our fill of mistaken identities for the summer back in June during the Gay Girl in Damascus and Lez Get Real scandals. But, apparently, the National Organization for Marriage and Newt Gingrich think a few more made-up people would do the world some good. Or, more accurately, do them some good. Both right-wing, conservative forces have reportedly been benefitting from imaginary social media followers.
Earlier this week, Newt Gingrich bragged about his 1.3 million followers on Twitter, which enormously overshadows the Twitter support that Michele Bachmann (68,000) and Mitt Romney (65,000), and even Sarah Palin (623,000) currently wield. Gingrich told The Marietta Daily Journal, "I have six times as many Twitter followers as all the other candidates combined, but it didn't count because if it counted I'd still be a candidate; since I can't be a candidate that can't count."
The folks at Gawker tackled the story and deduced that an estimated 92 percent of Gingrich's followers are dummy accounts or spam bots. A former Gingrich staffer told Gawker that the politician was in the practice of purchasing his Twitter support.
The Gawker article explains how Gingrich's allegedly fake Twitter follower base was discovered:
Mackey said PeekYou actually scrubbed each and every one of Gingrich's 1.3 million followers, using 23 criteria--including name, location, and inbound and outbound links in their feed--to determine whether they were real people. "We usually find out that real people have real web identities," he says. For the vast majority of Gingrich's followers, that wasn't true. They were either business accounts, private accounts, anonymous accounts that had only a user ID and no other discernible connection to the internet, or spambots. The average Twitter user, Mackey says, has a follower count that consists of anywhere from 35% to 60% real people. At 8%, Gingrich's is the lowest PeekYou has ever seen. "When was saw it, we actually had our quality assurance people go over the numbers for two days to doublecheck," he says.
Using algorithms to determine whether an online presence is real or fake is obviously more art than science, and sometimes an anonymous or private account that leads nowhere else on the web is still real. "It's hard to determine what's real," says PeekYou CEO Michael Hussey. "We're looking at digital footprints. We're not perfect. We'll miss some people." But even if their algorithms are off, you'd expect them to be off by the same measure for the other politicians they've looked at--but Gingrich's count is way out of the ordinary, Hussey says. "The ratio speaks for itself." The firm is preparing to release similar data on other 2012 candidates.
By comparison, PeekYou deduced that Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Michele Bachman have 20 percent, 26 percent, and 28 percent real Twitter followers, respectively. But they're not using their social media fanbase as a talking point on the campaign trail.
Now, the National Organization for Marriage is coming under fire for similar claims, but with Facebook astroturfing rather than Twitter deceit. Click-Z reports:
As social media manager for the National Organization for Marriage, Louis J. Marinelli, the then 24-year-old behind the "Protect Marriage: One Man, One Woman" page, was asked to put together a "SWAT team" of people to comment in favor of NOM's content and opinions. "There was a system where we would track what they did and they would accumulate points. ... We were working on a program where they would redeem those points for prizes," said Marinelli.
Gingrich and NOM are right to be concerned about the size of their online audience or perceived Internet power. When a cause can be ignited virally or stamped out with help from a huge online readership, amassing that support is really important. The difference, of course, is that Fakebooking and faux-Twittering you way to that audience doesn't translate into real Internet power.
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