Study: Congressional Twitter Accounts Are Plagued by Phony Followers

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2012 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Advocacy Media, a digital and social media marketing agency, ran a follower check last weekend on every member of Congress using StatusPeople, a tool designed specifically to check for fake followers on Twitter. They found that an average of 36 percent of accounts following representatives on Twitter and 38 percent of those following senators are a combination of fake and inactive accounts. The averages held true within a few percentage points when broken down by party.


Overall, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had the highest level of phonies following them. Polis's followers are over 50 percent fake, according to the study, a higher number than any other Democrat or Republican. Most others had a higher percentage of inactive accounts beefing up their follower numbers, but Jon Tilton, GM of Advocacy Media, clarified that fake and inactive accounts tend to mean the same thing: there is no human being on the other side of that account. Pelosi's analysis showed 17 percent of her followers are fake and 49 percent inactive, an identical result to McCain's.

The average Representative Twitter account has 6k followers, with roughly 6% "fake" followers and 30 % "Inactive". From Advocacy Media's findings, All congressional twitter accounts are plagued by fake followers; in fact, Nearly 40% of all Twitter Accounts Following Congressional Offices Are Phony Accounts, said Tilton. 

Furthermore, we've determined the real question is, considering how pervasive faker-bots are on Twitter, how effective is Twitter as a tool to resonate messages to constituents? "Congress reluctantly began to use Twitter because of its ubiquity and it being a new medium to connect with constituents. Remember, Representative Culberson's affinity for Twitter, then the apparent 180 because according to Rep Culberson, "he had had it with all the noise, said Tilton" Now that the curtain has been pulled back, it's likely communications to and through Twitter to Congress are really not that effective after all.

Congressional staffers base the relevancy and importance of someone's communications via Twitter by their influence — the number of followers they have, for the most part. The findings show that anyone can grow a fake following, point their message to a congressional handle and be noticed. 

Based on our experience managing digital issue and brand marketing campaigns, the findings really do make us rethink the legitimacy of utilizing Twitter as a communications tool, and how to build an organic, socially active community of issue and brand advocates to resonate messages on behalf of our clients.

As for the debate over engagement vs. follower count as proof of social media success, the value of a platform like Twitter is not so much about reach as it is engagement. "There are more efficient methods for reach than Twitter, like display ads or online media ads. Yes, Re-tweets do drive traffic, but a majority of the click-throughs are in the first five minutes of being "tweeted" out. If you have a ton of phony followers, how is that effective? It's just wasted campaign resources and totally misses the point of why a campaign, or individual, should be using Twitter in the first place," said Tilton.

Since Gingrich was exposed last year for having a high phony follower base, it definitely makes more sense for Congressional offices and campaigns to scrub their followers. In this new age of transparency in social media, the risks outweigh reward.

Tilton believes the high follower-win correlation for political candidates has finally been debunked!

Twitter is run amuck with phony accounts," Tilton said, noting that the problem raises questions about Twitter's legitimacy as a communication tool. Our advice is for congressional members and campaigns to invest in regular attempts to scrub their account of phonies, recommending campaigns and offices dedicate resources now in order to avoid wasting them later. Otherwise this chips away at the validity of Twitter as a platform of real people communicating their thoughts with their [representative] on an issue.

For accuracy, Advocacy Media cross-checked StatusPeople using his personal Twitter account before and after buying 1,500 fake followers from a marketing company. StatusPeople works by grabbing a sample of any account's followers, which means that testing an account with more than 100,000 is more prone to error. But Advocacy Media's testing indicates certainty to within a few percentage points. Similarly, a test run using StatusPeople on Romney's follower count last week mirrored the results of a study by security firm Barracuda Labs the week before.

Media Contact: Jon Tilton Advocacy Media, (202) 340-1985,

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SOURCE Advocacy Media



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