The Underground Economy: Buying Fake Twitter AccountsAn underground economy has probably existed since the days of the caveman, but today the Internet makes this economy quite lucrative for those who seek to deceive the uninformed or the gullible.

This issue was again highlighted last week when we learned that over 83 million Facebook accounts were faked by individuals seeking to cash in on products provided by companies seeking individuals to write bogus reviews about their products or services. At times, these same companies may even solicit writers to write negative reviews regarding a competitor’s product hoping to stay on top of the marketing curve. These reviews are then posted on sites like Amazon. However, some of these fake reviews are fairly easy to spot since the reviewers write volumes about the product that most casual users would fail to mention.

Twitter, on the other hand, encourages people to follow businesses on its site. So how do these businesses increase their number of followers on Twitter? The answer is simple. Just go out on the Internet and buy fake followers.

In fact, while this process is prohibited in Twitter’s terms of agreement, a recently released report from Barracuda Labs explains how simple it is to find these types of deceitful business owners. However, I want to make it clear right here that this article will not contain any links to fake or illegitimate websites.

Unlike sites that offer a higher character count for reviews, with Twitter, spotting fake accounts may prove difficult for the average consumer. One reason for this is that when an account has 10k, 20k, or more followers, the person seeking information would think that this particular site would be offering expert testimonials as to the value of the product or service. However, you may find that, with some Twitter feeds, this is just simply not the case. This is because some of a business’ followers are fake and are simply being used to lure unsuspecting users into believing that a person or business has more authority or knowledge about the subject than they actually have.

An example of this type of questionable activity was recently spotted on a site for one of the current presidential candidates. It seemed that, in this case, a huge spike in followers occurred almost overnight. When first spotted, the first assumption was that someone in his organization, supporters of his bid for presidency, or other concerned constituents may have padded the books. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that anyone can add fake followers to anyone’s account on Twitter. That means that even if these followers are bogus, we can’t judge the candidate since they may not be to blame for having illegal followings.

Another fact that comes into consideration when adding followers to a Twitter account is that ads generate income and ads are placed on Twitter accounts based on the number of followers they have. That means that, by padding the number of followers — of which 11,000 out of an average 48,000 may be faked — a potential advertiser can be deceived into thinking that they are viewing a reliable source. Thus, advertisers can be duped into placing advertisements on a site that no one actually visits.

How Can You Avoid These Rogue Twitter Accounts with Their Fake Groups of Followers?

To avoid these scams, you will have to do a little research. First, search on Twitter to locate people who are in the same industry as you are or who share similar thoughts, ideas, and/or hobbies. These individuals may have done business with the person being followed on Twitter and can give you their honest opinion. You can also use keywords to sift out those who use Twitter for the sake of just watching themselves talk.

Another way to protect yourself from being pulled into a following that has no real benefit to you is to locate people on Twitter who share the same local geography as you and who might be actually interested in what you have to say.

So let’s say you are now willing to take a chance and follow someone on Twitter; you should be aware that they may not get back to you right away. In fact, some people only check their Twitter accounts every few weeks. This, alone, should give you a good indication as to who is and who is not interested in having a genuine conversation with you as opposed to someone who is just trying to hook you into non-relevant garbage.

Comments welcome.

Source: Barracuda Labs

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by juque