- This Week
For $26, I gained 2,500 followers -- and you can, too! Adventures in being fake popular on Twitter
01.08.13 - 6:07 pm | Caitlin Donohue |
Donohue's Twitter profile, with newly perky follower count thanks to a $26 investment in fake relevance
Of course, not all bots are bought bots. Ever received a freaky link from one of your followers on Twitter? Some bots are meant for virus transmission, and latch onto popular accounts to increase their perceived legitimacy. Perhaps being followed by more accounts makes you more suspectible.
ARE MY BOTS RACIST?
The bots came sooner than I anticipated. Though Intertwitter had predicted I would see my 2,500 new friends join the party within three to five days, most came overnight. In fact, I saw even more than the promised amount drop in.
Because every writer needs to know her audience, I investigated my bots. @CandraObrien, with her profile photo featuring a shock of bleached blond and deep blue hair, looked like someone who might follow me in real life. I clicked to her feed and the first tweet to greet my eyes was awfully, unnecessarily racist. A nursery rhyme with slurs plugged in. The n-word? Candra, why?
It was a moment of panic. Would I be judged by my racist bots? Why the hell would the overseas programmers that my fake follower hawkers had described write racist tweets for my shadow minions?
But generally, bot feeds were comprised of sweet, generic affirmations ("Move on past your divorce & plan for the future, as that's where u are going to spend the rest of your life & it is so bright it glimmers."), crude outbursts ("I Wanna Fuck Those Huge Melons !!!!!!"), and marked by a mix of languages unlikely to occur in any one person's nomenclature (@BenitaSheppard3 supplied us with all these gems — her feed also includes tweets in Portuguese and multiple Asian languages.)
Some day, I will write slam poetry created from the tweets of my bots. My fake follower experts told me these profiles would stick by my side for a year. I hope they stay for ever. Besides the racist one. (Candra, get help.)
Though I knew it was the utmost in superficiality, suddenly having 3,000 Twitter followers felt like an Internet boob job. I was getting more real-life followers than usual, too: an aspiring NASCAR driver, activist group ACT UP, a Philadelphia journalist I'd looked up to for years, porn professionals, weed smoker networks, an organic restaurant in Seattle, an apocalypse-inspired visual artist, an SF vogue dancer, and a Ukrainian foodie.
I realized that my entirely questionable social networking had paid off while bonding with a colleague over drinks. "I just wanted to tell you that your writing has been going so well!" she enthused into our third beers and mutual writerly appreciation. "I was just reading over your most recent articles, they're amazing. And you're doing so well on Twitter — 3,000 followers!"
She dissolved in embarrassment when I confessed my scheme, insisting that the number hadn't overly influenced her compliment. In fact, after a round of direct messages to some of my new real followers, not a one would admit that my pixelated new breasts had been what had impressed them sufficiently to hit that "follow" button, per se. "Did you follow me because I tricked you with spam bots?" is a weird question to answer to in the affirmative.
Although: "&yes — it's assumed if you have lots of followers you have an entertaining/funny/ culturally relative twitter and I should prob follow you," Desiree Hersey, an SF club promoter/X-rated crafter extraordinaire told me.
"In general I am more likely to follow someone on Twitter who I don't know if they have a lot of followers. But it's not just the number of followers, but the spread between the number of 'follows' and 'followers,'" explained Philly's investigative journalist Daniel Denvir.
BUT IS IT RIGHT?
Did Romney's bot army get him closer to the White House? Was my Intertwitter boob job a breach of Internet morality? I put the question of ethics to the fake follower professionals.