In playing catch up with President Obama's social media savvy, Republican nominee Mitt Romney might have cut some corners. A new report by Barracuda Labs shows that more than 15 percent of Romney's Twitter followers may have come from bogus accounts generated by pay-for-followers services.
"We believe most of these recent followers of Romney are not from a general Twitter population but most likely from a paid Twitter follower service," Barracuda Labs research scientist Jason Ding wrote in the report.
It's important to note, however, that it's not clear if the Romney campaign, an independent Romney devotee, or his adversaries working on a gotcha move were the ones to buy the alleged fake followers for his Twitter account. "So far, there is not a feasible way to confirm who is responsible," Ding wrote.
For its part, the Romney campaign has issued a denial of the allegations. "The Romney campaign does not buy Twitter followers," the digital director at Romney for President, Zac Moffat, told CNET. "We have reached out to Twitter to find out additional information regarding the rapid growth."
As of this writing Romney has 783,500 followers; apparently many of these followers are new to Twitter, which is a telltale red flag for fake Twitter accounts. According to Barracuda Labs, Twitter follow services charge around $18 for 1,000 followers plus extra for selling tweets and retweets. These dealers can be found on eBay or through Google searches. "This underground Twitter business is just blooming," Ding wrote.
Here's some of the report's stats on Romney's newest 152,966 Twitter followers (between July 21st and July 26th 2012):
- The number of Romney's followers increased 17 percent (or 116,922) on a single day July 21, 2012 -- going from 673,002 to 789,924
- 25 percent of these followers are less than 3 weeks old (created after July 17th 2012), 80 percent of them are less than 3 months old
- 23 percent or about 1/4 of these followers have never tweeted
- 10 percent of these accounts have already been suspended by Twitter
Last year, of buying more than a million fake followers on Twitter; and, as with Romney's supposedly fake followers, huge portions of them were new, had no followers, and had never tweeted.
Twitter prohibits creating fake accounts or buying and selling followers. Over the years, it has suspended accounts believed to be phony. However, as Ding notes, "if they do not move faster and smarter, these fake accounts will continue to be created, blended into the massive Twitter population, bringing bigger and bigger impact."
CNET contacted Twitter for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.
Updated at 7:25 p.m. PT with comment from the digital director at Romney for President, Zac Moffat.