Jul 25, 2012.
Is it another cyber-scandal?
As the respected tech site Mashable put it, "two sudden and massive spikes in new followers" are raising suspicions about whether Mitt Romney bought fake followers in a desperate bid to boost his Twitter numbers.
If true, it suggests that his social media folks are stooping to former Republican candidate Newt Gingrich's level.
Back in January, Gingrich was winning the Republican tweeps race with 1,431,034 followers, compared to Romney's 304,540. But a former Gingrich staffer told the online tech site Gawker that Newt's campaign hired a firm to give his numbers a shot of social steroids.
"About 80 percent of those accounts are inactive or are dummy accounts created by various 'follow agencies,' another 10 percent are real people who are part of a network of folks who follow other back and are paying for followers themselves," Gawker reported.
Mashable drilled in on the report and spoke to the folks at the search company PeekYou, who said:
"... what stood out was the percentage of verifiable humans that follow Newt Gingrich: just 8% of the total."
This time, some shady shenanigans this past weekend -- the "two sudden and massive spikes" Mashable mentioned -- has got folks questioning whether Romney might be doing something similar.
The credit for catching the suspicious bumps goes to Zach Green of 140elect.com, a blog which tracks 2012 election-related Twitter trends. What he noticed was that Romney "was gaining around 3000-4000 new followers per day for the past month," Mashable reported. "Then his account suddenly got 23,926 new followers on Friday, 93,054 on Saturday and 25,432 on Sunday."
Hold on there!
What happened? What could possibly explain the nearly 150,000 follower bump in just three days?
Zac Moffatt, Romney’s digital director, said he's as surprised as everyone else. He insists the campaign doesn't buy followers.
"We have reached out to Twitter to find out additional information regarding the rapid growth," he told BuzzFeed. Yeah, well, you know, ... that's still leaving some wondering if maybe someone wanted to boost Romney's numbers and thought maybe nobody would notice.
Let’s face it, Romney's desperation might be understandable. When it comes to Twitter, Romney is pointing a pop gun at a guy with a cannon.
President Obama ranks number six in total Twitter followers. Admittedly, at 17,822,373 he’s more than a million followers behind number five -- Britney Spears. He's not even close to number one Lady Gaga's 27 million-plus.
There's some pretty serious competition up there in the nosebleed numbers. Justin Bieber has more than 25 million followers, and Katy Perry is nipping at his heels with 23.7 million. Rihanna is the last in the 20s before the totals drop down to Britney's comparatively modest, nearly 19 million.
Shakira, the highest ranking Hispanic in terms of Twitter followers, is just a few hundred thousand behind the president, at number seven.
Romney, though, isn't even in the top 1000. He clocked in with 824,744 Wednesday morning. (For the non-mathematicians out there, that means Obama has 21.5 times as many followers.)
That puts him a couple hundred thousand behind the likes of Jamie Foxx, Diego Luna and Deepak Chopra.
Of course, with zingers like these from the social media masters at @MittRomney it might be easy to understand:
"In order to rebuild our economy, we need to encourage the success of hard-working entrepreneurs, not tear them down."
"I'm honored and humbled to receive the endorsement of large list of veteran national commanders today. Thank you!"
He tweets, on average, twice a day.
Obama, on the other hand, tweets about once an hour and peppers his posts with blasts from some of his key supporters, like his wife Michelle and (a shout-out for the Latinas out there) Eva Longoria.
In fairness, the president's tweets aren't all that scintillating either, consisting mainly of snippets from speeches, political ads, and links to policy issues.
For example: "Sometimes politics can seem very small—but the choice you face? It couldn't be bigger."
Or, referring to himself in the third person: "President Obama is helping students "know before they owe" by asking colleges to use a simple financial aid fact sheet."
So what they tweet doesn't necessarily explain the difference in twitter followers, especially since Romney and Obama have both had their accounts for about the same amount of time. But, whatever the reason, there's a gargantuan gap in their follower numbers. And, whatever the reason, Romney's numbers took about a 17 percent jump in the span of three days.
The Twitterati pounced.
@KatieAnnieOakly noted that six of Romney's new followers had the same profile picture.
@MattBinder asked for some sympathy for Romney, with his tongue fixed firmly in cheek: "Guys, Mitt Romney isn't buying fake Twitter followers. Bots are just following the candidate they have the most in common with."
And @RexHuppke wrote: "Hey, fake Twitter followers are people, my friend." - Mitt Romney #MoreFakeMitt
Wednesday, though, the mystery remained.
Some of the more outraged folks in the land of Twitter started an online call for Romney's account to be suspended. That seems pretty unlikely, but it's also unclear if Twitter or Romney's digital people will -- or even can -- purge the fake followers, even if they can't get to the bottom of how they got there.
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