Those exploring Twitter may notice something unusual; loads of pages with no profile pictures, no header images, no descriptions, and user names that are either outright gibberish or, at the very least, bland or generic. Due to the volume of these accounts, one can probably rule out a single human sitting in front a computer and manually creating each of them. No, these pages are “generated.” Welcome to the Twitter bot invasion!
Where will you see these “bots?” On the follower pages of popular Twitter accounts, people and organizations who have millions of followers, such as major mainstream news outlets.
To some social media users, the sight of these blank profiles are likely mystifying. Why would anyone make a blank Twitter account like this? Why are there so many of them, and what purpose do they serve?
Zach Whittaker reported on this issue back in April for the technology site ZDNet. After ZDNet’s Twitter account reached over 400,000 followers, Whittaker noted that many of the followers were fake.
It was a stream of several hundreds of accounts with garbled usernames and a sea of empty profile pictures (which only until recently used to be the infamous, anonymous “egg.”).
Something wasn’t right — why would they follow us? We dug into it a bit further, and it wasn’t just us — these fake followers were also pushing up the follower counts of our friends at The Verge, Ars Technica, and Wired. Even our sister-site CNET was flooded with these new faceless, empty profiles.
After further investigation, ZDNet learned a Romanian spammer, Laurentiu Ciocoiu, was at least partly responsible for the bots they were seeing. Ciocoiu had set up a network of thousands of fake Twitter accounts to follow “high-profile, verified news publications and celebrities that are presented when the user first opens a Twitter account — and then fake accounts would follow the other fake accounts,” according to Whittaker. “Then, the fake accounts would post a single tweet — a link to a page that promises to show nude photos.”
In short? The bots generated money through clicks and sign ups to questionable, most likely fraudulent, companies.
Whittaker says Ciocoiu is just one of thousands of spammers and abusers of the system. “But that hasn’t stopped Twitter from facing extensive and sustained criticism for not doing enough about its fake followers,” he said. “Figures released this year suggest as many as 15 percent of all accounts are fake.”
Bots are used for other things as well, such as drumming up business.
Margarita Noriega, an internet strategist and founder of Internet Review, told ZDNet that bots were used in business, that companies relied on having a social following before seeking investments and development.