Want a Twitter following? Buy it

07/20/2014 6:58 PM

07/20/2014 6:58 PM

Hard work is one way to gain an impressive number of followers on Twitter. But there’s another way: Just buy them.

That’s what Dan Nainan did in 2012.

The veteran New York comic, who performed last year at a corporate event in Overland Park, had loyal fans and more than a million views on YouTube. But he had only 700 Twitter followers, not much for someone who had performed for President Barack Obama and billionaire Donald Trump.

So he bought 400,000 more for $424.

“I have a friend who told me he has 10,000 followers,” Nainan said. “Took him two years working two hours a day. I’m thinking, why on earth would I waste that much time on something so ephemeral?”

While some comedians and social media experts have criticized him, Nainan says his juiced-up Twitter following has helped him book more shows, gain more fans and get more respect.

“It’s a perception-is-reality thing,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, this guy has this many followers? He must be amazing.’”

Celebrities, politicians, businesses and reality show contestants are suspected of buying blocs of Twitter followers — all fake accounts — to appear more prestigious or popular. Others artificially inflate their social networks for money, bragging rights or professional clout. More Linked In connections can make job applicants appear more employable, while increased Soundcloud plays could influence record label interest.

Selling fake Twitter followers is big business. Italian security researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli, who spent months investigating the practice, estimated the market to be up to $400 million a year. Of Twitter’s 232 million monthly active users, they found about 20 million were fake and for sale. They also called out several celebrities, including rapper Sean Combs, who quickly amassed hordes of Twitter followers.

The fake Twitter phenomenon first made headlines during the last presidential race after Mitt Romney’s Twitter following jumped by 100,000 in a few days. Romney’s camp denied buying followers.

In recent months, the researchers say, the market has become more sophisticated, with many sites now hawking “high quality” fake followers that are nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. At “click farms,” workers in Bangladesh and other developing countries continually tap the “thumbs up” button, view videos and retweet comments to help inflate social media numbers.

Kris Nielsen, vice president of the Social Media Club of Kansas City, understands the desire to take a shortcut. But he can’t endorse it.

“Having followers that are fake to increase the size of your community is inherently unethical,” he said. “There might be benefits … but it’s the easy way out. It’s like wearing a T-shirt with a (muscular) six pack on it. You’re not really in shape. It’s like lying on your resume. And it will eventually come out.”

Businesses can easily get sucked into buying followers.

“They’re focused on having more fans or followers than the businesses down the street,” Nielsen said. “But if I buy 10,000 Twitter followers for my business, and they’re not potential consumers … what use are they?”

Twitter is fighting back, company spokesman Jim Prosser said. It has a variety of automated and manual controls to “deflect, flag and suspend” accounts used to supply artificial followers, which is against its rules. Twitter also has taken legal action. In 2012, it sued five of the most aggressive providers of fake followers. The lawsuits are still pending.

Buying fake followers comes with hidden dangers, social media pros say, including increased phishing and hacking. It also can infect your real followers with spam.

Thanks to a recent spike in the number of sellers, large numbers of followers aren’t as impressive as they used to be. In the next five minutes anyone can buy 300,000 Twitter followers for as little as $5. The same goes for artificially supercharging any social media status. Want YouTube views? Instagram and Facebook likes? Impressive numbers are just a click away.

Last year, the U.S. State Department, which has more than 400,000 Facebook “likes,” said it would stop buying Facebook fans after its inspector general criticized the agency for spending $630,000 to boost the numbers.

The more prevalent the practice, the more the number of fans, favorites, clicks, likes, pins and retweets — the very backbone of social media status itself — loses its meaning.

A million Twitter followers? Big deal.

“I can deliver up to 300K Twitter followers for one single page,” boasts a seller named Liam78, who has a 98 percent rating on Fiverr.com, a website offering a hodgepodge of services for $5. “My followers stay more than 97 percent. They may drop during Twitter update. Don’t worry. Just send me a message and I will add them back for you ASAP.”

Don’t trust Liam?

More than two dozen sites offer the same thing, including WeSellLikes, SeoClerks and Viral Media Boost.

Instaboostkz.com even features a playful blue bird as a mascot, offers a 100 percent money-back guarantee and accepts everything from Visa to PayPal.

Recently, technology writer Amanda MacArthur bought 2,500 Twitter followers to see what would happen.

“Buying followers is definitely a black hat social media trick, and one that makes newbies to Twitter look silly,” she wrote for About.com. “The number of teenagers I see with 50,000 followers will make your eyes roll back.”

She found many cons to using the shortcut.

“They’ll tell you you’re getting real followers, but you’re not,” she wrote. “In no time at all, usually a month, those fake accounts will be discovered by Twitter and deleted … and if you buy too many, the smart people will see your Twitter bio, figure you out and they won’t trust you. Big risk factor for any business.”

Still, buying the fake followers — which in a month were indeed discovered and deleted by Twitter — gained her 500 real followers.

“Have you ever tried to get 500 followers in a month before?” she wrote. “Pretty darn tough.”

Locally, while several people said they had bought Twitter followers, none would talk about it publicly.

Mil’yan Jackson is thinking about it, though. The Kansas City man, who buys and resells used car parts to friends and neighbors along Troost Avenue, doesn’t have a Twitter account. A friend told him he should get one to boost his business.

“Maybe I should get me a Twitter and buy a million followers,” he said. “I could be the used car parts king of Kansas City.”

He threw his head back and laughed.

“How dope would that be?”

To reach James A. Fussell, call 816-234-4460, or email jfussell@kcstar.com.

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