The fact that millions of fake accounts are following, tweeting, retweeting and liking may make you wonder what exactly Twitter's become.
Terry CollinsStaff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
When you interact with someone on
, is it really a person?
Does that ditzy celebrity really have that much influence?
Are those people on the internet even real?
These questions are increasingly at the heart of how people perceive Twitter. The social network boasts 330 million user accounts, which tweet about everything from social issues to the latest tech news, and represent everyone from Katy Perry to Pope Francis.
"It's kind of like inflating your resume. They were buying status so they can have influence," said Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University social media professor. And as if it wasn't obvious: "That's not OK."
Watch this: Twitter's tumultuous 2017
It's not just inauthentic and slimy. The thought that millions of fake accounts are following, tweeting, retweeting and liking all sorts of stuff underscores the nagging existential question about what exactly Twitter is.
Over the past few years, Twitter's real-time, talk-to-anyone nature has helped give rise to social movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. But it's also enabled a new type of hate campaign to flourish. Thousands of often-anonymous accounts swarm around topics or people they don't like, such as comedian Leslie Jones, outspoken video game developers or social activists like Renee Bracey Sherman.
What's increasingly become clear is that
-- automated computer programs sometimes posing as real people online -- are at the crux of these issues. The New York Times report alleged that a company called Devumi sold millions of fake likes, retweets and followers to high-profile Twitter users including actor John Leguizamo, football great Ray Lewis and even Martha Lane Fox, a Twitter board member. (Leguizamo declined to comment to the paper; a representative for Lewis denied making Devumi purchases; and Lane Fox told the Times a "rogue employee" bought the bogus followers.)
Many of these accounts also appear to be stolen identities of real people, the Times reported.
Devumi didn't respond to a request for comment, as Twitter has said it's taking action against the company. Meanwhile, attorneys general from New York and Florida plan to investigate Devumi's practices.
"The internet should be one of the greatest tools for democracy -- but it's increasingly being turned into an opaque, pay-to-play playground," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman tweeted Saturday. He added that "impersonation and deception" are illegal.