Let’s talk a little inside baseball here: After a media controversy last week involving Philadelphia Weekly putting a musician on its cover last week simply on the basis of his Twitter following (which itself turned out to be a matter of some dispute), we got curious about the growing problem of fake Twitter followers for media outlets themselves. First world problems, we know, but in the realm of media outlets, the matter can be (and frankly, is) getting to be a little thorny.
Allow us to explain: There are really two kinds of fake Twitter followers — the kind that people pay for to provide the illusion of popularity and influence, and the kind that are basically spam followers who bolster the accounts that people have paid for, natch, to provide the illusion of popularity and influence. (There’s also Twitter’s sponsored Tweets/advertising options, which attempt to find your organization real Twitter followers, often at $1 a pop.) Using TwitterAudit, we ran checks on all of the local media accounts you see above — where, as you can see, some are clearly faring worse than others when it comes to the growing onslaught of fake Twitter accounts. (We didn’t run audits on local TV news because that is not real news, it is not good for you, and why encourage you?) Did the organizations above pay for fake followers? We doubt it; anecdotal experience has shown us that often, news (or, in our case, news-y) orgs are merely host-follows, if you will, for the parasitic fake Twitter cell. Indeed, this is a whole thing now, and we know what you are asking: Why does any of this matter?
It matters for a few reasons: One is the general state of the alternate-universe Twitter where spam is a currency — as media outlets who want to be on the up-and-up with our readers, it’s a bad look to have nearly half of your following be, well, fake. Another is that all of these outlets (ourselves included) use Twitter for marketing purposes for themselves and outside clients and having a cancerously large number of fakes creates a kind of fraud in selling your reach. And the third (and frankly most important) thing is that, if the media itself is judging the newsworthy-ness of a story in terms of the subject’s Twitter reach, should we not hold ourselves to to the same scrutiny? Or better yet: Maybe we should just not do that at all. All of this played out in a fully wackadoo way for Philadelphia Weekly last week, who, as you will note from the chart above, currently sport a Twitter following that is itself nearly half fake.