Twitter supports a multimillion-dollar black market of fake accounts and fake followers, according to a study conducted by Barracuda Labs security firm.
The study found 99,494 unique fake accounts and 1,147 users who had purchased fake followers. A thousand fake followers sells, on average, for $11, down from $18 a year ago.
There are more than 6,000 dealers of fake followers, some of whom control as many as a million accounts and guarantee a stable follower count for a year for users who purchase their plans. The dealers advertised on eBay, Fiverr, and other websites.
Just 0.1 percent of the fake accounts were less than three months old, suggesting that Twitter isn’t doing enough to eradicate them from its site. The average age of a fake account, according to Barracuda, is 30 weeks.
The study pointed to a distinguishing feature that characterizes fake accounts: spurts of multiple tweets published too close together to be written by hand followed by substantial periods of silence. They are also twice as likely as authentic user accounts to have a URL in their profile bio.
The current generation of fake accounts is more sophisticated than the last, said Barracuda, and most services designed to weed out fake followers failed to detect them. More than three out of five fake accounts were created by duplicating profiles from real users: adding one extra character on the screen name, and using the same displaying names, descriptions and locations.
Barracuda researchers first purchased fake followers and then observed their behavior using Twitter’s API.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.