Yesterday, we published an item based on a former Newt Gingrich staffer's claim that Gingrich assembled his 1.3 million Twitter followers—a number that he's taken to bragging about—in part by buying fake Twitter followers. A lot of people did not think that was true! But today social networking search firm PeekYou announced that it had crunched the data and come to the conclusion that roughly 106,055 of Gingrich's million-plus followers are real people. The rest are fakes.
Our source yesterday told us that about "80 percent of [Newt's followers] are inactive or are dummy accounts created by various 'follow agencies'" paid by his campaign. That made sense to us largely because Gingrich's 1.3 million followers seems oddly inflated compared to, say, Sarah Palin's 600,000. But many folks quickly, and quite reasonably, pointed out that Gingrich was one of the first GOP politicians to be listed on Twitter's suggested user list—a perch that guarantees a torrent of Twitter followers and is as likely an explanation as any for Gingrich's high follower count. Of course, that doesn't disprove the claim that he buys fake followers—both can be true. The only historical data we could find on Gingrich's followers goes back a year, and—except for a small bump that coincides with the launch of his campaign—he's held pretty steady over that time, so we don't know whether there are any suspicious spikes in followers prior to that or whether they all came rushing when he was added as a suggested user in 2009. Short of direct evidence of follower-buying, there's not much more we can do to corroborate our source's claims aside from actually pore over all those 1.3 million followers looking for fakes.
As it turns out, the search firm PeekYou has done just that! And it doesn't look good for Gingrich. In a happy accident, PeekYou—which is sort of a people-oriented search index—has for the past year been conducting research on how to measure the quality of Twitter audiences, a project that included looking at politicians' Twitter followers. And by their count, just 8% of Newt Gingrich's followers are real people.Wow. That is just pathetic. Presumably, Gingrich didn't come up with this idea himself, but he ought to fire who ever did. Of course he is going to lose anyway so it won't make much of a difference.