Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

Real Me, Anyway, Has Quit Twitter

January 27th, 2018 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Journalism

The New York Times today posted a very interesting and very alarming long-form piece on the practice of selling social media accounts.

The story suggests that 15 percent of Twitter accounts are actually “bots” — bogus accounts created to help ethically challenged entrepreneurs amass enormous lists of account holders which they can sell on to individuals to inflate artificially the number of their “followers”.

Twitter is not believed to be a creator of those for-sale bots, but the site may have as many as 48 million bogus accounts, according to The Times.

Most purchases are intended for individual use by those who crave what appears to be online popularity — or for those who want to join the ranks of “influencers” — who get paid for endorsing products to their hundreds of thousands of followers.

Until a few hours ago, I had a rarely used Twitter account.

It now has been deleted.

I want nothing to do with a company that does not appear truly interested in rooting out its millions of fake accounts.

So I quit. Even after Twitter made quitting the site not exactly easy … and even after they emailed me, wistfully, under a headline that read: “Is this goodbye?” With a following sentence: “Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider?”

Oh, I’m very sure.

I never liked Twitter. Never.

Journalists tend to say pretty much the same thing, when asked about tweeting: No one’s career was made by Twitter, but lots of them were ruined because of it — a single controversial tweet, for instance.

I was pretty much forced to get an account, while I was doing reporting in Abu Dhabi, and tweeting was supposed to be something I did — in addition to my writing and reporting for the newspaper.

Even then, it seemed clear you were only as important as the number of people who followed you — that is, received all your tweets in their accounts. But, silly me, I assumed those were real numbers from real people.

I followed about 130 accounts — in most cases friends or co-workers or sources or competitors who might be covering the same stories.

In a year or two of half-hearted tweeting I built up a following of fewer than 400 and when I left my last newspaper job, I did no posting.

But the account was still out there.

For all I know, someone could have stolen my information and created a bot that is among the huge packages of accounts for sale, sometimes at a penny apiece. (NYT focuses on a company named Devumi.)

The Times talked to people who bought followers … and they suggested they needed big numbers to enhance their ability to make a living on social media — or to seem important enough to follow. An actress said: “Everyone does it.”

Kathy Ireland, the former swimsuit model, went from 160,000 followers a year ago to more than a million now, according to The Times, and the newspaper reports that an employee of Ireland’s spent $2,000 for 300,000 bogus accounts. Ireland now has more than 1 million followers.

A second-tier TV actor in the past two years spent “less than $4,000” to buy 750,000 followers, according to The Times. He also has about 1 million followers. Or a few humans and hundreds of thousands of bots.

Anyone with a Twitter account clearly needs to mull whether he or she wants to be part, even peripherally (by holding an account) of a company (Twitter) that can’t be bothered to eliminate bogus accounts — some of which are so crude they should be flagged up at the moment of creation.

(One tip-off: The number of accounts followed, in bogus accounts, typically is far, far higher than the number of “followers”, of that account.)

The Times reached a Twitter spokeswoman who indicated that “the company did not typically suspend users suspected of buying bots, in part because it is difficult for the business to know who is responsible for any given purchase. Twitter would not say whether a sample of fake accounts provided by The Times — each based on a real user — violated the company’s policies against impersonation”.

Said the spokeswoman: “We continue to fight hard to tackle any malicious automation on our platform as well as false or spam accounts.”

Well, not very hard.

The Times continues: “Unlike some social media companies, Twitter does not require accounts to be associated with a real person. It also permits more automated access to its platform than other companies, making it easier to set up and control large numbers of accounts.”

And people in the industry noted that it was to Twitter’s advantage to have bot accounts, so that they appear to be attracting big audiences of humans, still. To weed out bogus accounts would be to reduce their published totals.

So, I finished the NYT story, managed to recall my Twitter password and figured out how to shut down my account. More or less, that is. Twitter assured me that if I type in my password at any time in the next 30 days that my account will be reestablished just as it was when I disconnected it.

Go read the story. You really should. Here is the link, again.


0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment