How To Spot Fake/Bought Social Media Followers (with Infographic).
Not too long ago, in the wild, scarcely policed new social media frontier, there were numerous ways to boost your social cred (and presumably, your ego) by artificially inflating your buddy/follower/friend/clan/etc counts; when it came to bot or dummy friends, the higher ups at the biggest services could even call the practice a win in terms of increasing customer engagement and buoying average monthly user totals.
But the negatives of this false popularity soon became apparent, and each of the services began taking very serious steps to limit a user's ability to connect with people simply for the sake of making a connection, or, worse, out and out buying fake followers for the myriad of reasons one might want to do that.
At first it was fairly easily to spot the friend builders, especially on Twitter, as their bios usually screamed some variation of followback, or team followback -- and some folks cut right to the chase and straight up admitted that "I will follow each and every single person who follows me first." Ka-ching.
Enter rate limiting, a practice wherein online social services attempt to deter this "easy money" by putting a hard cap on the number of adds/follows that a user may request during a given time period. (Unlike Apple, which up until the nude celeb iCloud hack, allowed nefarious users unlimited attempts to brute force their ways into accounts whose email usernames were already known.)
So how do you get around rate limiting? You get people to add you first of course -- there's no rule against being popular. Thus sprung up some highly-frowned upon,but apparently profitable and thriving businesses which offer to sell you followers in bulk using accounts that, at least on the surface, look legit enough to pass automated spam checks.
A closer look at these accounts, though, all reveal similar patterns, and thus flaws. These follownets, as I'll call them, generally all follow one another initially to give themselves immediate legitimacy, but the content they post is sparce and ultra generic.They tend to use real-enough sounding names, albeit filled with punctuation and heavy on the fringe spelling. A quick peruse over one of these followernets seemed to show that most had at least ten times, and some as many as twenty times or more, follows than followers. That can be a big red flag when none of the followed accounts seem to fit a particular interest or category that could classify them as sock-puppet list curators, of a sort.
However, the biggest red flag, and one that can only be teased out by examining the followers of these bots themselves, is the fact that they all tend to follow more or less the same people, and in more or less the same order -- a necessity, since customers want to start receiving follows/friends as soon as their payments clear, sometimes by the thousands.
For examples of about a dozen of these types of accounts from Instragram, check out the graphic below. Seems to be only a matter of time before Twitter, IG, Facebook, et al are able to fine tune their algorithms to detect and put checks in place for this type of behaviour. Until then, however, continue to feel free burning cash on fake connections which serve to impress no one except the programmers having a good laugh at the desperate, egotistical minds seeking credibility in whatever fashion they can manage.