Over the last few days, numerous Republican campaigns in Minnesota have been the target of new dirty trick in politics: fake Twitter followers. The campaigns of 2nd Congressional District candidate David Gerson, 6th Congressional District canidate Tom Emmer, and U.S. Senate candidate Chris Dahlberg, have all commented publicly on Twitter about the surge in fake followers to their accounts.
Fake Twitter followers can be added to a user’s account through a variety of services and can be done without the user’s permission. Last month, KSTP did a story on Minnesota politicians having fake Twitter followers.
I spoke with representatives of all three campaigns this morning, and all expressed frustration with being targeted with fake Twitter followers. All three campaigns have contacted Twitter and are using a variety of strategies to remove the fake followers from their accounts.
Tom Emmer’s campaign has temporality protected their Twitter account, as close to 100,000 new fake followers targeted Emmer’s account. It could days, if not longer, for the campaigns to remove the fake followers from their accounts.
Aside from having to spend days removing the fake followers, the campaigns that have been targeted with fake Twitter follows have also face criticism from supporters of other campaigns for having fake Twitter followers. Even after Chris Dahlberg’s campaign sent out a message about being targeted with fake Twitter followers, a supporter of Julianne Ortman’s campaign, Bryan Strawser, complained about the huge increase of Dahlberg followers on Twitter.
I spoke with Erik Leist, who is a social-media strategist for ProV3, a digital media and web design agency. ProV3 has been hired by Dahlberg’s U.S. Senate campaign. I asked Leist to explain how fake Twitter followers impacts the credibility of a Twitter account. Leist said, “a large number of real Twitter followers is a good measurement to show people that your brand is credible and that people wish to engage with you.”
“But purchasing fake Twitter followers diminishes your brand’s credibility, as a huge number of fake followers shows you cannot organically gain supporters and therefore need to inflate the number of followers with fake accounts,” said Leist. “It’s a terrible strategy, because the purpose of social media is engagement and there is no engagement with a fake person,” added Leist.
I asked Leist why someone would target a Twitter account and bombard them with fake followers, Leist said, “it’s astro-turf on steroids and it gives the impression that a candidate cannot organically build support for their candidacy and they need to buy the appearance of supporters.” I’ll be reporting again on this issue in the coming days, so please check back to politics.mn for additional analysis on the 2014 elections.