Crowdturfing is not a new phenomenom. For as long as communities have existed there have been fake profiles created. In an interview last year, Reddit founders revealed that they themselves used fake accounts to get the site off the ground.
Last year it was revealed that the industry was worth many millions of dollars already. That was before Mitt Romney's Twitter account brought things to a very public head. His account famously gained around 100,000 followers in a very short space of time, leading to accusations that he'd paid for the extra followers.
The furore led to services such as a fake follower checker by StatusPeople, which claimed to be able to unearth how many of your own followers were fake. Research revealed that some big brands had as many as 50% fake followers.
Far from showcasing the seedier side of the web however, this publicity seems to have propelled the crowdturfing industry to new heights. Two Italian security experts have been investigating the black market in Twitter followers. They found the market to be buzzing with activity.
They found over 20 companies offering fake Twitter followers, with a combined total of over 20 million fake accounts in circulation. These fake accounts are typically sold in batches of at least 1,000, but sometimes as high as 1 million at a time. The fake followers can be bought for around $18 per 1,000, although some are sold for much more.
Overall they estimated that the industry had mushroomed to be worth up to $360 million a year.
“There is now software to create fake accounts,” one of the researchers said in an interview. “It fills in every detail. Some fake accounts look even better than real accounts do.”
The most sophisticated of these accounts post tweets on a regular basis and come complete with photos and bios.
“Resellers lately haven’t been selling only accounts and followers, but are now getting into the retweet business,” the researchers revealed.