We Are The Eggmen

Washington Post

Reports have zinged around the Internet this week about a sudden and mysterious surge in President Trump’s Twitter following, along with dark musings that something nefarious may be afoot...

...There is a strangely large percentage of Trump’s followers — and especially his newest followers — that have only the most rudimentary account information, with no profile picture, few followers and little sign that they have ever tweeted. These are so-called “egg followers” because instead of a profile photo they traditionally carried the image of a blank egg on Twitter account pages.

And that, say some researchers, is odd.
“This is very, very obvious when you just go and click on the newer followers,” said Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. “The quality of the new followers is pretty bad.”

SocialRank, a New York-based analytics company that works with Southwest Airlines, L’Oreal and the NFL, reported this week that as Trump’s number of followers surged from 24.1 million in February to 31 million in May, his number of “egg followers” grew sharply as well, from 5 million to 9.1 million. Of that group, more than half have never tweeted and only 4 percent have 25 or more followers; 927,000 of Trump’s egg followers opened new accounts in May, according to SocialRank’s analysis posted Tuesday.

That doesn’t necessarily make the accounts “fake,” as some reports have claimed. Most academic researchers say that determining what percentage of followers are actual individual humans can be extremely difficult — and almost impossible with an account with as many followers as Trump’s. Twitter itself has acknowledged that as much as 8.5 percent of all of its accounts are likely automated, though independent researchers say the number may be twice as high...

...Last year, during the election campaign, several academic researchers tracked the use of Twitter bots supporting either Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. They reported that the bots supporting Trump massively outperformed the bots supporting Clinton, by a margin of 5-to-1  in the final days before the vote.

Among accounts that researchers had identified as “highly automated” — meaning likely bots — 81.9 percent carried at least some messaging supporting Trump, according to a November paper written by Woolly and two colleagues, Bence Kollyani of Corvinus University and Philip N. Howard of Oxford.

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