The NYT recently uncovered that there are up to 50 million fake followers on Twitter. And it turns out that celebrities and other public figures can easily buy tens of thousands of fake followers. As Slate explains:
It’s little surprise, then, to learn that many of the site’s users have exaggerated their own prominence. Actors, models, businesspeople, athletes, adult entertainers, and others have all bought fake followers from a shadowy company known as Devumi, as the New York Times exhaustively demonstrated in a recent story. Though much of the Times’ reporting is new, we’ve long known that users artificially inflate their virtual fame. More surprising, however, are the ways those users respond to being called out.
In fact, the NYT set up a new Twitter account and quickly secured 25,000 followers by paying Devumi a mere $225.
This story caught my eye because it would explain something unusual about Richard Dawkins’ twitter account that I noticed a month or so ago. I don’t check in on Dawkins much these days because he has largely fallen off the radar. Yet when I checked his account not too long ago, I noticed he had over 2.5 million followers. Huh? During the days when his tweets were constantly generating news stories, and he was still quite popular, Dawkins had about 1 million followers. So during the couple of years since his stroke, when he tweets far less frequently and doesn’t seem to generate hardly any attention from the wider media, he picked up another 1.5 million followers?
I suppose anything is possible. But then again, I notice that despite 2.5 million followers, a Dawkins’ tweet generates an average of 500 rewteets and 1000 likes. So in other words, only about 0.04% of Dawkins followers can be bothered to actually retweet or like something he posts.
Then there was this recent tweet:
Please sign the petition to save the life of Hamza bin Walayat. He’s at risk of deportation to the barbaric theocracy of Pakistan, because some ignorant jobsworth at the Home Office thinks Plato was a humanist.https://t.co/s0tiZugyOr
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) 18 January 2018
So Dawkins explicitly asks his 2.6 million followers to go sign a petition. Well, if you click on the link, you’ll find this petition has 12,302 signatures. Even if you make the unrealistic, generous assumption that each and every signature came from one of Dawkins’ followers, that’s only 0.5% of his followers.
As I see it, there are two plausible explanations. Either over 99% of Dawkins’ followers don’t get excited about the things he gets excited about. Or, a lot of those followers are fake.
And of course, the two explanations are not mutually exclusive.