Fake social media profiles: My own experience with Facebook

Just read this blog in the economist, stating how many social media fans/ followers etc are actually fake machine generated accounts. The Blog mentions that Mitt Romney gained 17% followers in a day and interestingly, a friend tweeted about Mitt Romney losing 11 followers per minute.


Arguably this machine generation of fake profiles, is of some benefit to the organization ( say Romney), but I bet also helps build up the numbers of social media service.
A few weeks ago Facebook prompted me to friend one Harsh Taneja. It was indeed a fake profile of myself. The picture and the “about me” description among other details were scraped from this blog. Interestingly this clone of mine and I also had 7 or 8 mutual friends already. Curious I decided to send a friend request to myself and magically it was accepted in some hours. I reported the profile and I think in a day it was taken down ( as I am unable to find it on searching).

Made me think, it is indeed to easy to create fairly real looking machine generated profiles, given the amount of self descriptions we leave on the web, that can be viewed publicly or semi-privately. And it is quite easy for these profiles to circulate unchecked, as people can entirely miss seeing them, forget to report. In some other cases, they may be of people not on the service altogether ( say people who use blogger but not twitter, and their About Me pages on blogger provide fodder to generate these fake twitter profiles.) Scary!

Finally, I decided to use this service to check my own twitter followers and found that 5% of the followers were fake and another 13% inactive. Perhaps explains why tweeting some random but generic word such as Forex, or Television instantly adds a few followers.

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Twittervolutions aren’t Real Revolutions: Why India needs to take to the Streets

Recently there has been a lot of debate over what role social media, twitter in particular  played in the uprisings in the Middle East. Many said these platforms were important but others pushed the envelope by saying that these revolutions wouldn’t be successful without social media. The ongoing case of Anna Hazare’s fast unto death against Lokpal Bill in India is a natural experiment to test these arguments.

As I write: On ground: Sh Hazare’s fast has entered the second day today. There seems some momentum (150-200 people at Jantar Mantar) similar numbers in central locations in some other cities around the country.

On twitter: Thousands of people are tweeting their support.Many thousands more are ‘retweeting’ these tweets further. The topics are also top trends in twitter. There are 20-30 new tweets flowing in every minute for the last 3 hrs at least.  I ask ‘SO WHAT’.

I suspect the actual impact is nowhere as strong as the volume of tweets would suggest.Get into the content of tweets.

  1. It is mostly self styled opinion leaders, film stars and other celebrities enhancing their own brand value by tweeting for a good cause. These tweets are being retweeted by their followers.
  2. Another category of tweets is the news channels trying to enhance their viewership by seeking opinion polls and advertising telecasts related to the issues.
  3. Of course some jokes are among the most circulated tweets.

In sum, there is no collective action being planned actively on twitter nor is twitter contributing to more people joining the actual movement.

Overall the movement remains as strong or weak as it would have remained without this social media intervention. Perhaps there is greater awareness but to my mind tweeting about this is not very different for a majority of people than say congratulating the Indian team for winning the cricket world cup.

In short, despite the immense exuberance on social media, this revolution is yet to become exuberant on the steets, which was the defining aspect of Middle East uprisings. For instance, Interntional news websites (like BBC, CNN and NYT) do not even have a mention of it on their home pages.

They and many others will only take note when Indians in large numbers  take their tweets to the streets.

One cent per character : Will celebrities help Twitter monetise?

So as expected twitter has finally started talking more concretely about its revenue strategies interestingly they have taken to advertising (promoted tweets) as the primary driver along with some exploration into paid accounts. This is an article that talks about these in some detail.

I somehow feel that it is the celebrity accounts of twitter that can give it its much needed revenue stream. Think of the number of followers that celebrities on twitter have generated. Shashi Tharoor ( India’s external affairs minister) has 715,000 followers, Priyanka Chopra ( a bollywood actress) has 250,000 and so on so forth. Even celebrities with a niche appeal say popular journalists (Like Thomas Friedman has over 50,000 followers). So What?

What if twitter begins to charge everyone who has greater than a certain follower base size, a small amount of money on a fixed basis? Would these guys pay? I am sure their respective PR companies will advise them to pay. After all some 750,000 Indians chose to invest their time in receiving updates about their foreign minister’s activities . Can priyanka chopra choose to ignore her fan base of 250,000 people now that she has started actively engaging with them?

I would be interested in answers.

Tweets as Text Messages: Unresolved questions for low internet penetration markets

I am sorry if the title of this post reads like a research paper, (yes you got it) I will blame it on pressures of Grad school. Anyhow:

There has been a lot of chatter that the power of twitter lies in its integration with mobile devices. More specifically tweets being 140 characters can be easily sent via text messaging. And given that in markets where internet growth has kind of hit a wall ( India) mobile phones and text messaging are growing like wildfire. I believe India has 500 million mobile users now versus some 35 million internet users and my sense is that only a third of these internet users would be accessing the net everyday. As for their cellphones well they wine, dine, move and even sleep with them.

So by signing deals akin to the one they signed recenty with with Bharti Airtel ( India’s largest mobile provider) is Twitter all set to widen its user base? Even if an average twitter user tweets twice a day it will cost him Rs 3, and given that there are 50 people he follows he recieves 100 tweets a day. That’s enough gossip to keep someone satiated . As for Twiter if 10 million people do this (2% of mobile users) and as per a revenue share arrangement with Bharti they earn Rs 0.50 per tweet that is about Rs 10 million a day ( USD 80 million annually) – this is assuming a very conservative user base ( If 9.5 millions are already on Facebook already twitter’s integration with text should give it a much larger user base).
Think Something’s amiss? Read on
Consider two people, Amit and Neha ,18 and 20 years old.(SEC B2) They go to a degree college in Muzzafarpur in Bihar (Imagined Data). They have had mobile phones for some time and by now are fairly hooked to text messaging. However they have never used the internet yet. How will they ever discover the utility of twitter? How will they add friends to follow? They represent 90% of India’s mobile users who (almost) all of whom don’t access the internet.

That said the euphoria surrounding Twitter and mobile devices is not unfounded. Existing users of twitter can tweet more frequently and actively ,on the move. But for the millions of ‘Amits’ and ‘Nehas’ how will they even learn about twitter and appreciate its use in their lives unless they discover it on the Web. The extended usage on mobile can only follow that discovery.

A revelation about social media’s role in everyday lives

Social media has become a part of mainstream lives as being reflected in general news stories where services like twitter and facebook play important character roles!

A recent online encounter took me by some surprise. Since I have over emphasized in my last post about grad students having no money, a newspaper subscription that sets one back by $ 20 -30 a month is out of question. For the uninitiated, Chicago Tribune is 75 cents on weekdays and a whopping 2 bucks on Sundays. I think even annual subscriptions cost $150 -$200. Despite these costs, a few loyalists in my building do get the paper delivered, and I occasionally steal a glance at headlines.
One such story 3-4 days ago was about Twitter which I wanted to read. Earlier today, I decided to find it on the Tribune Website and keyed in ‘twitter’ in the search box with the optimism that I will find it among the first few search results. After all, how much would have been written about twitter in a general news daily in the last 4 days.

But I found 281 results and the article I was looking for was nowhere on the first couple of pages. Twitter was an integral component of many news stories apart from the obvious media/technology stories to those ranging from news about airline industry to Hollywood celebrities and social trends . All the three stories I have linked have appeared on the same day (October 12,2009) and this is not inclusive of all stories in today’s Tribune that talk about twitter. And this is just twitter, if I keyed in facebook, digg and other similar services, I may find many more stories where these websites are characters that have important roles to play.
While a lot is being written about social media per se, but a lot that is being written about real people and their interactions using social media, suggests that these services are surely out of discussion forums of tech/media enthusiasts and have become part of the mainstream.

Interestingly the article I was looking for was about twitter’s plans to monetize its website. If you are convinced that the service has phenomenal potential, you may just want to read it here !