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How to keep your Twitter following authentic

Fake followers hurt your credibility -- so clean up your follower list!

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Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

Did you know that you can purchase 1,000 Twitter followers for just $12? That's right: if you're willing to drop some cash, you can be a bonafide Twitter celeb in less than a week.

Or can you?

It doesn't matter whether you have 20 or 2,000 followers -- you always want more, because more followers means more credibility, more social networking clout, and, yeah, a bigger boost to your ego. Building a Twitter following takes time and effort, and it can be tempting to try to take a shortcut to Twitter fame. But this is a bad idea because it's against the rules (yes, Twitter has rules), and, if people find out you're faking your Twitter following, you'll lose all credibility instantly.

In fact, it's not a bad idea to take extra steps to keep your Twitter following authentic, by sussing out fake accounts that may be following you and blocking them. Here's how to keep your Twitter following spotless and squeaky clean:

How to spot a faker

There are a couple of handy tools you can use to determine whether a user genuinely has 100,000+ followers, or if they went the "drop some cash" route. You can also use these tools to audit your own Twitter account.

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This is what normal follower growth looks like. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

Twitter Counter is a Twitter statistics tool that tracks users' follower growth over time. Twitter Counter lets you track up to 3 months of stats for free; more if you pay for a premium account. Just type in the person's username, and you'll be presented with a chart that shows how their following has grown over the past months. Most active accounts will show a slow, but steady, rise in followers. What you're looking for is any abnormal activity, such as a sudden spike in followers. If someone goes from having 2,000 followers to 10,000 followers in two days...they probably paid for it.

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85 percent real. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

Twitter Audit is another tool you can use to sniff out fakers. Twitter Audit analyzes a user's follower list (or, well, a 5,000-follower sample), determines what percentage of those followers are fake, and spits out an audit score of between 1 and 100 percent. The tool looks at a few criteria to come up with its score, including the number of tweets, date of last tweet, and ratio of followers to friends each follower has. Twitter Audit does take into account that most Twitter accounts have some fake followers, so any score above 60 percent is classified as "real," while scores between 40 and 60 percent are classified as "not sure."

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This person probably bought some followers. Probably. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

I've found Twitter Audit to be relatively accurate for anyone who's not a legitimate celebrity -- and even Ellen Degeneres has a Twitter Audit score of 74 percent.

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Inactive followers are a different kind of fake follower. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

Twitter Audit shows you what percentage of followers may be fake, but it doesn't show you what percentage of followers are simply inactive users. Fake Follower Check breaks it down for you so you can see how many followers are fake, how many followers are inactive, and how many followers are "good." To use Fake Follower Check, you have to sign in with your Twitter account. You'll get your score, and then you'll be able to search three other usernames per day for free (if you want to search more accounts, you'll have to subscribe for $5.49, £3.70 or AU$7.18 per month). Fake Follower Check looks at a sample of just 500 followers for its metrics, so it's a little less accurate than Twitter Audit.

What to do if you have fake followers

If you just ran your Twitter username through those services and came up with a less-than-perfect score, don't panic. Every Twitter user has some fake followers, because spammers and bots follow everyone. If your following is on the larger side, you fake follower count is probably also on the larger side, since spammers and bots are especially attracted to popular, active Twitter accounts.

The only way to force fake followers to unfollow you is to block them. When you block someone Twitter, they're no longer able to see your Tweets or follow you (but what do they care -- they're bots). To block someone, open up your follower list, click the gear next to their name, and click Block. You can see a list of users you've blocked by going to Settings > Blocked accounts.

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Blocking followers manually is the easiest way to get rid of fake followers. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

If you need to purge a slew of fake followers, combing through your follower list and blocking them one-by-one is not terribly efficient. However, unless you're willing to pay for a premium service, you may have to put in the legwork.

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Use Tweepi to find fake followers so you can block them. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

Tweepi is a Twitter management service that features a "Force users to unfollow me" button for its paid subscribers (starting at $7.49, £5.05 or AU$9.79 per month). The service lets you sort and organize followers by number of followers, last tweet, follow ratio, number of friends, and number of statuses so you can find the fakers and get rid of them. If you don't want to pay, you can use Tweepi's free service to find the fakers, and then go into Twitter and block them on your own.

Your Twitter following will (likely) never be flawless, but you can keep it pretty shiny by going through your followers every so often and kicking out the spammers.