Three years ago, we warned small business owners and managers not to fall prey to the temptation of buying fake followers on a social media network. It’s tempting because it seems so much easier to buy followers than to earn them. However, let that warning be your guide, that warning you can still hear echoing through the ages from a parent, teacher, coach or other trusted advisor from your youth: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” 

Recently (1.28.2018), a major investigative article in the New York Times explored social media’s black market: Follower Factories.

3 billion | In 2017,  three billion people logged onto social media networks like Facebook, WhatsApp and China’s Sina Weibo.

48 million (15%)  | An estimate of the number (and percentage) of Twitter accounts that are automated (or, “bots”) designed to simulate real people. (The company claims that number is far lower than the Time’s estimate.)

60 million | Last November, Facebook disclosed to investors that it had at least twice as many automated users (or, 60 million) as it previously estimated

The influence economy

Some in the advertising industry have created a new status symbol: the number of people who follow, like or “friend” you. People with large numbers of followers — referred to as “influencers” — are sometimes sought out by marketers for endorsement deals.  And as with other types of endorsement deals, influencers are required to follow the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines for anyone being paid to endorse a product or service. Some influencers, however, seem to overlook the FTC requirements regarding transparency and disclosure of payments for endorsing a product.

The New York Times report singled out one company, Devumi, as a major source for those who want to pad their social media accounts with paid followers. Devumi’s founder, German Calas, denied his company sold fake followers and said he knew nothing about social identities stolen from real users.

$225 | Purchase price of 25,000 followers, or about a penny each, via Devumi. (Source:

  • Several Devumi customers admitted to the New York Times that they bought bots because their careers had come to depend, in part, on the appearance of social media influence.
  • While Devumi sells millions of followers directly to celebrities and influencers, its customers also include marketing and public relations agencies, which buy followers for their own customers.

Cracking down on fake followers

Within a day of the New York Times report, Twitter cranked up its bot-killers:

  • Federal and state authorities announced they are investigating the sellers of artificial followers and other fraudulent social media engagement
  • Twitter said it would take action against Devumi’s practices
  • Several celebrities lost a substantial number of followers
  • Even a Twitter board member lost 46,000 fake followers from her account

How to tell if your followers are fake

Spotting fake Twitter users is generally fairly easy, though fakers have gotten better at it over time.

Fake follower software

TwitterAudit | A paid app that can automatically scan your followers, revealing the number of fake followers and allowing you to delete and block them (for $5 a month).

Account Analysis | Looks at accounts individually.

Learn to recognize fake followers

Between and my personal Twitter account, I get 10-20 new followers each day. I’ve given up trying to purge any fake followers as there are only so many hours in a day. However, I do take the time to see the profile of those who follow and will follow back if the person meets my “inner algorithm” that I made up a couple of years ago.

  • I look to see what town they say they’re from
  • I click to see if other businesses from that town are following them
  • If the photo of the user looks like a stock photo, I do a quick search using Google Image ( If a dozen or more users look identical, chances are they are fake
  • Offset followers-to-following rations: If the user has very few followers but is following lots of people, they are likely fake
  • If the user has never tweeted, I flip a coin. I know lots of lurkers use Twitter but following a lurker back is fairly pointless

(Whenever I follow someone — and I add followers daily — I do not view the decision to follow them as any form of endorsement. I follow them because they seem like they are legitimately an owner of a small business — or would like to be one day.)

How to manage your followers

  • If you are using a computer (and not a mobile device), click “followers” below your own profile image.
  • Stop users from following you by clicking the three vertical dots above and to the right of their usernames
  • Click “block.”

50+ Answers From the FTC to Questions About Influencer and Endorsement Online Marketing | 2017