I Bought 27,000 Fake Twitter Followers—and Then Twitter Zapped Them Into Oblivion

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 5 2012 4:51 PM

I Bought 27,000 Fake Twitter Followers—and Then Twitter Zapped Them Into Oblivion

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Zombie followers are not OK with Twitter

Photo by Heather Faulkner/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday evening, Slate posted a piece I wrote about buying 27,000 fake Twitter followers. Within a few hours, I got a tweet from a reader noting that my follower count was back down 1,223. Someone had jettisoned all those zombies.

I immediately suspected that Twitter had seen my story and zapped my fake followers, so I emailed the company to ask if it could help me figure out what exactly had happened. "We don't comment on actions taken on accounts," replied a spokesperson, "but as far as what you describe, we have a mix of automated and manual processes that monitor for spam activity on the platform."

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This seemed a lot more manual than automated—my fake followers had sat undisturbed for months until I outed myself on Slate. So my guess is that somebody on the "trust and safety" team at Twitter spotted my Slate column and decided to whup some zombies. No notice was given to me, no explanation. This was just a cold-blooded mass zombie killing.

Felt kind of brutal on my end. But it's covered under Twitter's "spam and abuse" rules. I was fretting that some real followers might also have been deleted as collateral damage but, according to the spokesperson, each zombie account was sent a message inviting it to prove itself real and win reinstatement.

Al Delgado, sole proprietor of FanMeNow.com (a site that sells fake accounts, though not one I bought from) says he sometimes gets complaints from customers when their newly purchased zombie followers get purged. "I replenish the followers at no cost," says Delgado. "I want to maintain good relationships with my clientele." Delgado feels the real scandal is that Twitter enforces unevenly and hasn't cracked down on celebrities he thinks are buying followers. "Look at Lady Gaga," he suggests, noting that StatusPeople.com assesses her followers as 30 percent fakes.

As for me: It's actually a relief to be rid of that garbage mound of zombies. Now I know that every tweep I have is a tweep I earned. And, by the way, in the midst of all this hullabaloo I gained about 130 new real followers—most of them curious to find out what had happened to my 27,000 fakes.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

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