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Newt Gingrich accused of Twitter follower fraud

Gawker and an anonymous ex-staffer of Newt Gingrich are accusing the presidential candidate of buying more than a million (fake) followers on Twitter.

Christopher MacManus
Crave contributor Christopher MacManus regularly spends his time exploring the latest in science, gaming, and geek culture -- aiming to provide a fun and informative look at some of the most marvelous subjects from around the world.
Christopher MacManus
3 min read
Gawker is going gaga over Gingrich's alleged Twitter follower count. Newt Gingrich

Husband, father, grandfather, citizen, small businessman, author, former Speaker, candidate for president, and Twitter fraudster? Newt Gingrich is being accused of having more than a million fictitious followers on Twitter.

Do you believe he really has that many followers? Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET

The provocative blog Gawker has been on an absolute tear over the last few days, accusing Gingrich of using campaign money to hire spam agencies designed to boost Twitter follower counts. The accusations supposedly originate from an anonymous former campaign staffer.

Things got even spicier today, when Gawker cited a new report by New York-based search company PeekYou, which claims to have analyzed every Gingrich follower and to come up with an alarming conclusion:

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 percent human depending on this type of account. Newt's was 8 percent--the lowest the team had ever seen by 5 percent.

PeekYou claims to use a specialized algorithm that examines a variety of details about each Twitter account, including name, location, social graph, social memberships, social network, social activity, and produced public content. The research company believes that Gingrich's real follower count is closer to 106,055, based on its findings, meaning that potentially 1.2 million of his followers are fake.

A graph representing Newt Gingrich's Twitter follower count since the beginning of this year. Twitter Counter

Slate defended Gingrich today, citing a Politico article that raises a very supportive circumstance of his innocence: Gingrich had more than a million followers before his campaign even started (based on figures from tracking site Twitter Counter).

The Politico report suggests that the reason Gingrich has so many followers in the first place (besides his lengthy political career) is due to his being a "Suggested User" on Twitter since late 2009. Gawker's response dunks that theory like a basketball, saying current Speaker of the House John Boehner and media "maverick" Sarah Palin are on the same list, but even their Twitter follower counts combined are still below Gingrich's.

It is indeed a little difficult to believe that those two don't have more followers, given their consistent presence on the political landscape.

After taking a look at the list of Gingrich's followers, one can quite easily find some suspicious accounts following the presidential candidate. There are countless followers with no tweets, no followers, and so on. While many people may never be followed or may never tweet, it doesn't look good for Gingrich. What do you think?

Update, 11:20 a.m. PT Wednesday: Newt 2012 spokesman R.C. Hammond e-mailed CNET the following statement today regarding the recent accusations made about Newt Gingrich's Twitter account:

"At no time has the campaign or Gingrich Communications employed an outside group to inflate the number of followers of @newtgingrich. Any accusation of the kind is a lie, a smear and unsubstantiated. Twitter's addition of @newtgingrich to the Suggested User List is responsible for a large, but indeterminable amount of followers. Twitter users follow Newt they same way they elect to follow Ashton Kutcher, Shaquille O'Neil or John McCain. Twitter alone is the authority on counting followers and policing their legitimacy."