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The business of buying and selling fake Twitter followers is booming, according to a study by Barracuda Labs: Among the top 100 Google search results for the term "buy Twitter followers" are roughly 58 websites and 20 eBay sellers that offer various bundles of fake followers for sale. The average cost of 1,000 fake Twitter followers is just $18.

For the study, which began in May 2012, Barracuda Labs set up three Twitter accounts and purchased between 20,000 and 70,000 followers for each account from eBay and another website found via Google search. Barracuda then analyzed those followers' profiles and tweets.

Below, additional findings from Barracuda's study.

Dealers (users who create fake accounts and sell followers) can earn up to $800 per day for seven weeks of selling Twitter followers if they control roughly 20,000 fake accounts, Barracuda estimates. Dealers also have the option of selling re-tweets as an additional source of revenue, at roughly $5 for 2,000 re-tweets.

Abusers are defined as those users who buy followers (most of which are fake) in order to look more popular or to use the accounts for selling ads:

  • Roughly 11,283 Abusers were identified, each with an average following of 48,885.
  • 53% of Abusers have 4,000-26,000 followers.
  • 75% of Abusers display a URL in their profile, compared with 31% of Twitter users overall.

Fake Accounts are those created by dealers for selling followings or tweeting. In total, Barracuda found 72,212 unique fake accounts; among them:

  • 61% were less than three months old (as of April 16, 2012).
  • 55% had roughly 2,000 followers.

Presidential Campaign

To put a face on the dodgy Twitter economy, Barracuda Labs explored presidential candidate Mitt Romney's 17% spike in new Twitter followers on July 21, 2012. On that day, Mr. Romney's follower base grew from 673,002, to 789,924, a net gain of 116,922 followers. 

Those followers could have been purchased by either Romney himself, his associates, or by his opponents, Barracuda notes. Among Romney's newest 152,966 Twitter follower accounts, gained July 21-26, 2012:

  • 25% of the follower accounts are less than three weeks old (created after July 17, 2012) and 80% are less than three months old.
  • 23% of the accounts have no tweet activity.
  • 10% of the accounts have already been suspended by Twitter.

About the data: The study began in May 2012. Barracuda Labs set up three Twitter accounts and purchased 20,000-70,000 followers for each account from eBay and another website found via Google search. Barracuda then analyzed those followers' profiles and tweets. 

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