Twitter underground economy still going strong
by Jason Ding - Barracuda Labs - Tuesday, 2 July 2013.
The Twitter underground economy and the fake social account market as a whole continues to gain momentum, and the financial motivations of this multimillion-dollar business remain clear.

Since our first analysis and report, we at Barracuda Labs have continued to monitor this activity across multiple social networks. Twitter continues to be the largest offender (or victim) with its underground economy for buying and selling fake social accounts.

As part of this experiment, we once again began our investigation by searching on eBay, Fiverr and Google for vendors who sell Twitter followers. Then, we selected several of the vendors with varying price rates for purchasing followers, and spent about $100USD to make a few purchases.

After these followers were delivered to our controlled Twitter accounts, we used Twitter API to collect their information and conduct deeper statistical analysis.

Because the fake accounts are from multiple data sources, the resulting data characteristics are also different. For this purpose of presenting the results of this study, we selected one dealer who is most representative, sophisticated and interesting, and report the analytic results based on data collected from that dealer.

Similar to our previous study, we have organized the results into three groups: (1) Dealers (hackers or vendors who sell Twitter followers), (2) Abusers (Twitter users who bought or had fake followers), and (3) Fake Accounts (created by dealers for selling followings or tweets business).

Dealers (hackers or vendors who sell Twitter followers):
  • 52 eBay sellers are found selling Twitter followers; 55 websites are found in the Google top 100 results when searching “buy twitter followers” (and 49 of those websites are new ones); astonishingly, 6400+ Twitter followers services are found on Fiverr.com.
  • The average price of followers has dropped significantly: $11 per thousand followers (compared to $18 in August 2012).
  • Some Dealers can control as many as millions of Twitter followers (see fastfollowerz.com and twittercluster.com package options).
  • Some Dealers provide location-targeted Twitter followers, either Global or USA specific, and some provides monthly subscriptions.
  • Some are extremely sophisticated, such as fastfollowerz.com, which provides extensive features, including 100% active followers, 5-year retention protection (no followers drop in 5 years), guarantee to pass StatusPeople detection, geo-target by country or city, target by keywords or profile information, monthly subscription, daily delivery, etc.


Abusers (Twitter users who bought or had fake followers):
  • Only 1147 Abusers were identified, with only 121 of them as fake accounts
  • The average Abuser has 52,432 followers; 60% of Abusers have 4,000-26,000 followers
  • Only 55% of Abusers have set URLs in their profiles
  • Average account age of Abusers are 100 weeks, or 1-year and 11 months
  • 16 Abusers have more than 1M followers, 88 Abusers have more than 100K followers.
Fake Accounts (created by dealers for selling followings or tweets business):
  • 99,494 unique fake accounts identified
  • Average age of these fake accounts is 30 weeks or about 7 months; only 0.1% of Fake Accounts are less than 3-months old
  • On average, a Fake Account is following 60 users, tweeting 77 times, and has 32 followers
  • 63% (62,982 out of 99,494) of Fake Accounts are created by duplicating profiles from real users: adding one extra character on the screen name, and using the same displaying names, descriptions and locations. Some real accounts are duplicated multiple times.
We compared these 62,982 fake accounts and the real accounts that are used for copy, and list several differences in the following table:

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