Newt Gingrich’s Twitter Followers Mostly Fake?

An amusing claim--but probably not true.

An unidentified “former staffer” claims that Newt Gingrich has artificially boosted his Twitter following by paying a vanity agency to create massive numbers of fake followers. It’s probably not true.

Yesterday, Gingrich bragged about his following and whined that the media isn’t translating that into frontrunner status in the race for the nomination. As Doug rightly noted, “By Gingrich’s logic, the frontrunners for the GOP nomination should be Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, and (but for the fact that he’s Canadian) Justin Bieber.”

Gawker followed up with a story headlined “Most of Newt Gingrich’s Twitter Followers Are Fake.” They quote a “former staffer” outlining an odd scheme:

Newt employs a variety of agencies whose sole purpose is to procure Twitter followers for people who are shallow/insecure/unpopular enough to pay for them. As you might guess, Newt is most decidedly one of the people to which these agencies cater.

About 80 percent of those accounts are inactive or are dummy accounts created by various “follow agencies,” another 10 percent are real people who are part of a network of folks who follow others back and are paying for followers themselves (Newt’s profile just happens to be a part of these networks because he uses them, although he doesn’t follow back), and the remaining 10 percent may, in fact, be real, sentient people who happen to like Newt Gingrich. If you simply scroll through his list of followers you’ll see that most of them have odd usernames and no profile photos, which has to do with the fact that they were mass generated. Pathetic, isn’t it?

PZ Myers thinks so. And so would I, were it true.

Despite calling it “too good to check,” AllahPundit actually checks. Or, at least publishes an email from a friend with “a likelier explanation for Newt’s following:”

Hey, the Newt Gingrich story is unbelievable BS. Leave aside the utter impracticality of creating new accounts just to boost your follower numbers – you’d have to create new email accounts AND new Twitter accounts for each follower, which would be prohibitively time-consuming for a ridiculously small return – Gawker just completely ignores the most obvious fact: Gingrich was one of the very first Republicans added to Twitter’s Suggested User list.

Back in 2009, it was estimated that being on the Suggested User list could quickly get you about 500,000 followers. It has to have increased since then. Newt Gingrich was on that list for a long time.

By way of comparison, Al Gore (http://twitter.com/#!/algore) has 2.2 million followers and he has only tweeted 368 times. Why does he have so many followers? Because he was on the Suggested User list.

This is actually much, much more plausible. When “suggested users” was implemented a couple years ago, lots of stories were written about the massive boosts it was yielding, along with those complaining about the unfairness of it all. (I will note, though, that Jon Huntsman is on the list–for how long, I don’t know–and he had a mere 7596 followers, about twice what I do.)

While I wouldn’t put it past Gingrich’s ego to engage in weird attempts to inflate his Twitter numbers, the fact of the matter is that he was a very early adopter and seems to genuinely be using his account. I’ve been following Gingrich for years mostly because, in the early days, it was novel to get direct communication from major public figures. I suspect a lot of others did the same.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. legion says:

    Can we please put this windbag in the “sad excuse for a media whore” bag with Sarah Palin and just forget about them for a while?

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Who cares. Why are you wasting bandwidth on some nobody named Gingrich?

  3. Ozarkhillbilly says:

    an update

    The Consumer Ratio measures the percentage of a Twitter audience that is identified as a “consumer” or “voter” in Newt’s case, vs business, private/anonymous and spam accounts. The average range sits anywhere between 30-60% human depending on this type of account. Newt’s was 8% — the lowest the team had ever seen by 5%.

    and

    “Once the news broke yesterday the team went back to look at the report. The data supported that out of Newt’s 1.3 million followers only 8 percent (2 percent less than claimed in recent media reports), are identified by our algorithm as humans, meaning Newt’s follower count is really closer to 106,055,” continued Hussey.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Ozarkhillbilly: Interesting. There are a ridiculous number of spam accounts out there that auto-follow everyone. I used to clean them out but gave up long ago. Given that Newt’s was a “recommended follow” account, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him have an above-average level of them. But the number does seem off.