Social Media Engineering – detecting fakes is easy

You all know the story, you come across someone on Twitter or an equivalent network and they seem to have literally 10,000’s of followers, without any real rational reason (that you can work out) as to how exactly they have managed to gather so many people… Your instinct says something ain’t right and it’s probably true.

So what are the give away signs that someone is ‘faking it’ socially? There are few simple tells (which cannot be hidden) that give the game away and it literally takes 5 minutes to check.

1. The Bulk Follower Rollercoaster

Unless someone has super human abilities, it usually beyond the realms of practical possibility that a Twitter account can follow several hundred accounts in one day. More likely it’s a maximum of a dozen or so and certainly no more than 100. So if you see an account follow North of 500 twitter accounts on a single day – something fishy is going on that smells like a rat (to mix my metaphors).

So why do they do such a thing? I think it goes something like this:

  • The act of following someone shows up on their activity stream. So there is a certain likelihood they will follow in return, and,
  • Some accounts are actually Bots (shock horror!), which will automatically follow anyone who follows them.

So if you follow 700 twitter accounts, you might get 70 following in turn. Now the neat trick to this, if you have it all automated, is to dump following people say a week or two after doing this (being dumped doesn’t show up on your activity stream) – the net effect is your followers go up, whilst the number you follow cycles up and down as you keep repeating this trick.. Do this 2 to 3 times a week and you have an almost guaranteed rate of follower adding of around 200 a week – which soon adds up. Plus if you time this right (the adding and removing actions) the actual number of followers won’t cycle up and down. In fact this is the key give away this is happening, as how can they be adding hundreds of followers and not have the historical follower graph ping/pong all over the place…

But the real killer in detecting fakers is the following.

2. Updates into the dark void (where nobody interacts)

Now Twitter is quite a busy place, so having a lot of followers should result in a large amount of social interaction when you post or share something…  or should it? Well it depends if your followers have more in common with a crowd of brainless zombies than actual people. So have a look at how many people actually  favourite or retweet an update of the account in question, then divide that by the number of people following and multiply by 100 – this gives you the percentage of actual active engagement with a post – anything South of %0.1 (1 in a 1000) is a big red flag to an old bull that the followers in turn are a load of bull.

For instance when we send out an update we usually get 2 or 3 social interactions, which comes in over 5% easily, which will be several orders of magnitude over those with zombie herds as followers.

3. Random dude or girl followers..

Now if the above two don’t nail the coffin for you, then I suggest you have a look at the actual followers themselves. See anything like:

  • Accounts selling 5k followers for $30
  • Very dubious accounts that seem to exist to just post pictures of various bits of the female form
  • Accounts obviously in a completely different language
  • Accounts in a group ALL USING THE SAME UPPERCASE ACCOUNT names with hardly anything in the descriptions

Then it’s more that likely you are looking at an account of someone who has tried to buy their way to an online reputation and failed big time.

Faking it online never works

I know your thinking if they can do it, you should have a go as well – I suggest you don’t. Basically what is it saying about your actual integrity with respect to other people if you think they are going to be unable to do the above 3 simple things to ascertain if you are genuine or not? I think the only person you would be fooling is yourself, so just don’t be tempted to ‘manufacturer’ a follower base, it’s literally worth as much as you spend on it – i.e. next to nothing. It’s far better to have fewer actual genuine followers who will interact with you and thereby help grow your proper online authority.

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Director at Aykira Pty Ltd
Keith is a founder of Aykira & has over 18 years experience with everything Internet. From eCommerce to security, mobile to maps; large or small. PhD in Info Systems, member Australian & British Computer Society's, ex Yahoo. Architect/Engineer/Innovator.