President of America by day, but a Twitter sensation by night–in just a matter of days Donald Trump’s Twitter followers skyrocketed by a few million. But the question is, are they real?
A tweet claiming that the President gained 5 million followers in less than three days went viral in quick time. The tweet also suggested that these followers were mostly bots. But on Tuesday, a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that Trump did not gain that many followers in that time.
Even though that claim is resolved, researchers believe something strange is going on with Trump’s Twitter numbers. In May alone, his followers grew by 2.4 million– from 28.6 million to now over 31 million followers, in other words, an average of one new follower a second. But being the President and well known for his late night tweets that are often the talk of the town the following day, the numbers aren’t surprising. But the question of whether these new followers are real or mostly bots is driving researchers to skepticism.
“In my expert opinion, something strange is going on,” Samuel C. Woolley, research director for the Computational Propaganda project at Oxford University, told the Washington Post. “It’s consistent with other strange things that have gone on before with this politician’s Twitter feed.”
Bots refer to automated accounts that are controlled by an individual or a team. These accounts can be programmed to follow instructions such as replying to tweets from other accounts.
Many of these new followers are believed to be bots because of a large percentage of Trump’s followers, especially his newer ones, have profiles that lack basic information, have very few followers and show no sign of prior tweets. These followers are also called “egg followers” because they have no profile pictures up so only an egg meant to act as a placeholder is seen. Though Twitter abandoned the egg image in March, researchers still refer to them as such.
“This is very, very obvious when you just go and click on the newer followers,” Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, told the Post. “The quality of the new followers is pretty bad.”
Of Trump’s 31 million followers, 9.1 million of them are eggs, according to a report by SocialRank, a social media audience management tool that identifies, organizes, and manages followers on Twitter and Instagram. Of these 9.1 million egg followers 55.8 percent never tweeted, 17.2 percent tweeted in the last 90 days, 27 percent did not tweet in the last 90 days, 95.74 percent have under 25 followers and 46.4 percent have between 0 and one followers, is some of the information compiled by the report on these followers. However, egg followers are not new for this Twitter account; the report states that in February egg accounts made up 20 percent of his followers and in May they made up almost 33 percent.
Determining whether these followers are humans can be very difficult and almost impossible with an account that has as many followers as Trump’s does. Twitter has acknowledged that as much as 8.45 percent of all its accounts are likely automated, according to the Post, but independent researchers say the number may be twice as high.
Many new Twitter users often appear without a profile photo because they are still setting up their account, according to Twitter spokesman Nick Pacilio, which can also explain why so many of Trump’s followers are “egg followers.”
The chief executive of Social Rank, Alexander Taub says that there’s a possibility that many of Trump’s egg followers are real but also believes that there’s something strange going on as well.
Twitter Counter, an analytics service for Twitter, –predicts that Trump will accrue over 37 million followers in the next three months and over 57 million in one year.