Some Twitter users love bots--those fake, computer-generated Twitter users that boost your follower count. They're usually pretty harmless, retweet you, and make your numbers look better to the outside world than they actually are.
Most of us don't care if a few followers are fake accounts. I once painstakingly blocked every bot that followed me, but now I only bother to block spammers and pornbots. But it turns out bots are becoming big business--not for Twitter users, but for companies that sell batches of fake accounts. Several companies exist solely to sell batches of fake accounts for anywhere from $2 to $30 per account. The bot-selling business could pull in $360 million at the higher end, and a more modest $40 million at the lower end.
Those figures come from security researchers Carlo De Micheli and Andrea Stroppa, who told the New York Times that there are some 20 million fake Twitter accounts. They arrived at that number after analyzing the most popular tweet-sellers, including Fiverr and LikedSocial.
There are many reasons someone would want to buy followers. After all, popularity is currency in social media. Companies, politicians, bloggers, and media outlets all benefit when they rack up followers. It's even better when those followers retweet your content, like links to products, fundraising pages, or articles. A robust number of followers and retweets lend legitimacy in the social media world. Real people are more apt to like something on Facebook or follow someone on Twitter if that product or person is already established.
Retweets are the name of the game on Twitter these days.
These days, fake followers are being fleshed out with seemingly real names, bios, and even websites. But the real emphasis is on retweets--companies or individuals can buy a certain number of retweets per account per day. Stroppa and De Micheli told the Times that five retweets a day can be had for $9 a month, and 125 daily retweets for $150 a month.
For normal people who use Twitter the way it's intended--to effortlessly toss out witty, 140-character bon mots--bots and fake tweets are barely an annoying blip on the social media radar. Little can be done to stop the companies who sell batches of bots or fake retweets, much of which is done under the guise of "social media marketing." For its part, Twitter last year recognized that the bulk of some companies' marketing was really just spam, and sued five services that sold automated messages and accounts.