Understanding Bad Fake Follower Scores via @OwenJones84

By Rob | 16 Feb 2015, 12:00pm | Category: Social Media

On Thursday and Friday a couple of articles were published in the press about our App. One about David Cameron and one about @OwenJones84 and they highlighted some interesting points about Fake Followers on Twitter.

The articles were overtly political in nature, so I don't wish to delve into their specifics or take any sides. Also it should be noted, that on a personal level, I share neither man's politics so I regard myself as a neutral. What I would like to discuss though are the nature of bad Fake Follower scores, how our app works and give a clearer insight into the data.

According to our OwenJones84 Faker Page -- updated Feb 14th -- Owen has a faker score of 84%. This is of course very high and suggests that something unusual has occurred. It does not mean that Owen has purchased any Fake Followers. To put this in context Owen should have no need to. He's a very popular Guardian journalist, political firebrand and has a highly engaged Twitter account, so it's not surprising he has a lot of followers. In addition the amount of spam on Twitter should not be underestimated, it's a huge problem that Twitter cannot solve without ruining their network.

So why might our app register such a bad score for Owen? Essentially it comes down to the way the Twitter API works. To analyse 1,000 followers requires us to make at least 6 requests to Twitter. If you combine this with the way that Twitter limit requests per 15 minutes there is a natural block to the amount of data we can analyse in a short period of time. Our aim is to return scores within 30-120 seconds so currently we sample up to 1,000 records over the first 35,000-50,000 records we access. It should also be noted that Twitter return follower data most recent follow first.

What does this mean in Owen's case? My theory would be that someone has purchased Fake Followers for Owen's account. It is incredibly easy to do with sites like this for any Twitter handle. The account has then been analysed and because the most recent 50,000 or so followers are fake our app has generated a terrible score. Please note this is just my theory based on previous experience, I'm not pointing the finger of blame anywhere. Nor am I suggesting the first part and the latter part of my theory are linked in any way.

Now of course this does open up our app to the accusation that our algorithm can be gamed. It can, but only in extreme circumstances like Owen's. According to our data over 95% of Twitter users have less than 50,000 followers and 65% have less than 2,000. So for the great majority of users our scores will be perfectly accurate and reflect their true Faker Status.

In addition to this we also have a Deep Dive tool that over the course of a couple of days analyses far more data than our live tool. This is so we can validate the scores of larger accounts for those interested. On Friday I set this off on Owen's account to give us a better understanding of his data. The results are as followers...

  • We sampled 16,154 records accross his follower base of 286,848 followers
  • It returned scores of 26% Fake, 29% Inactive and 45% Good

This we believe is a much more accurate score and backs up our theory that Owen has a relative normal following for someone with his social status.

We hope this information clears things up and gives everyone a better understanding of how our app works.

If you have any questions please message us @StatusPeople or message me directly @RobDWaller.

Speak soon. 

The 2 Definitions of a Troll and the Tragic Death of Brenda Leyland

By Rob | 9 Oct 2014, 01:00pm | Category: Social Media

On Saturday, October 4th, 2014, an exposed 'Troll' was found dead in a hotel room in Leicester. The 'Troll' Brenda Leyland was exposed the previous Thursday by @SkyNews as one of the Twitter 'Trolls' sending abuse to the McCann family.

For those of you not aware the McCanns' daughter, Maddie, went missing in 2007 while on Holiday in Portugal. The McCanns have worked tirelessly but Maddie has never been found and there are no explanations of what happened. Questions have dogged the McCanns for years in relation to their involvement and conspiracy therioes have developed and evolved.

Brenda Leyland was a proponent of these theories. As BuzzFeed show she tweeted regularly on the topic under the handle @sweepyface using the hashtag #McCann. There can be little doubt that some of these messages, or even many of them, would have caused the McCanns distress.

However there does not seem to be any sign that she was threatening or even rude. She simply criticised and questioned the McCanns' version of events. For me, and on this basis, I simply can't define Brenda Leyland as a Troll and she should never have been hounded by the media. Yes you could descibe her as odd, misguided or even obsessive or unwell, but not a Troll.

Highprofile cases such as Peter Nunn and Stella Creasy MP are making us over sensitive to Trolls. You could even say hysterical. This issue has been hightened because for the first time celebrities and public figures are directly exposed via social media to the people who love them and -- importantly -- loathe them.

The idolatry bubble has burst and many high profile figures don't like it. So we now live in a world where there is a Troll hidden around every corner, down every dark alley and behind every bush... We are beginning to conflate criticism with personal attacks and we forget that offence is purely subjective.

This is causing us to throw around the term Troll carelessly and in the case of Brenda Leyland tragically. It is time we put trolling into perspective. Social Networks are generally a very good place to be -- dynamic, constructive and friendly -- we should remember that. A more sensible definition of a Troll would be based around two points...

  1. They are directly rude.
  2. They make direct personal threats.

This would clearly seperate cases like Brenda Leyland from the likes of Peter Nunn who are actual Trolls. In addition the authorities should only involve themselves if point 2 is breached.

I hope we can begin to add some perspective to the subject of trolling, it's just very sad that it took a balls-up by @SkyNews and a death to highlight this issue...

Speak soon.

One Lesson to Learn from #JenniferLawrence and the Nude Selfies

By Rob | 3 Sep 2014, 11:00am | Category: Social Media

Twitter is awash with the news that nude selfies of famous female celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence, have been hacked from their private Apple iCloud accounts.

One can only condemn the hacker or hackers for this gross invasion of privacy. And one does hope the FBI catch the perpetrators -- even if one wonders whether a similar non celebrity case would catch their attention.

But either way what can those of us who use digital tools and social media learn from this incident? One thing -- your data is not 100% secure online.

The response to the hack has been mixed. Some have condemned the hack. Others, like comedian Ricky Gervais, questioned why the nude selfies existed in the first place. And many have parodied the hack with the #IfMyPhoneGotHacked hashtag.

This has also led to some prominent figures and feminists to suggest the hack and response were sexist...

There is no doubt these women were blameless victims of a crime against their property.

However we should not let that fact cloud reality. And the reality is data of any type stored online is not 100% secure. Even with the best minds and will in the world -- and a tonne of money -- data will never be entirely secure online.

Most people who work in development and software know that online security is about the value of the data stored vs our inability to make it 100% secure. The aim therefore is to make the process of hacking too time consuming and difficult in relation to the value of the data.

In terms of iCloud and the average user's photos the system is probably more than secure. That is to say hacking iCloud for an average person's photos would just be a waste of time. However celebrity data is different and has far greater value, which explains the willingness to carry out the hack. And to be fair to the developers of iCloud they probably hadn't thought about a celebrity usage scenario.

So what does this mean for us, the average internet user? Well it is very simple, always assess the value of the data you put online and where you put it -- whether that be photos, text, information, financial data, etc...

Data placed on a social network like Twitter or Facebook is not going to be very secure. Data stored on services like Dropbox or just stored on a PC connected to the internet will be more secure. But ultimately if you have data that is very sensitive and or personal, keep it offline entirely.

A simple rule of thumb might be to suggest that if you don't want the NSA or GCHQ to see it -- keep it offline...

Hope this helps and please let us know your thoughts @StatusPeople.

Speak soon.

What A Twitter Fake Follower Now Looks Like

By Rob | 18 Aug 2014, 01:45pm | Category: Social Media

Over the last couple of weeks we have been doing some research on the current state of Fake Followers on Twitter. This is so we could begin updating our algorithms to offer a better and more accurate service. And last week we released our first update -- refinement will continue for the next month or so...

To do our research we purchased some 'Followerz' from a well known spammer for our test account @FakersApp -- about 1,000. The research has revealed a number of interesting trends...

First of all, and most importantly, the Fake Follower bots have become much more sophisticated. One thing to note is that profile and image data is being completed much more accurately.

In addition each bot is not spamming to the same extent they were. The modern bots are following a few hundred accounts rather the 1,000+ accounts of 'yestayear'... The lack of followers still remain but the relationship between follows and followers is no longer quite as extreme.

Some interesting new spam flags have appeared though. If you look at the tweets that many of these accounts produce they rarely make any sense nor have any relationship to each other. But most telling is that none of them contain links. We're not quite sure why this is but we believe it may have something to do with phishing filters that Twitter may already have in place.

And finally another interesting development seems to be that the spammers are beginning to use private accounts. This would make some sense as it means tools like ours can't then analyse any of the content produced by these bots. Quite how this works with Twitter though we're not sure.

As should be clear the Twitter spam landscape is continually evolving and our work will have to continue if we are to keep on top of this issue.

We hope this info is useful and if you have any thoughts on these issues let us know at @StatusPeople.

Speak soon!



Disruptive Capitalism: The Rise of the Social Consumer

By Rob | 24 Jun 2014, 10:30am | Category: Social Media

The rise of the social consumer is happening. For the first time in human history the consumer is gaining real power over the corporations that exist to serve them.

But to this day many have hold the view that the consumer is merely a victim. The play thing of evil corporations and complicit governments. Views like the ones held by American Labour activist Cesar Chavez have been widespread...

"Who gets the risks? The risks are given to the consumer, the unsuspecting consumer and the poor work force. And who gets the benefits? The benefits are only for the corporations, for the money makers."

Some corporations exploit and do bad things. But it is a gross oversimplification to suggest the consumer is or ever was docile, stupid or without power.

As the famous advertiser David Ogilvy said...

"The consumer isn't a moron. She is your wife."

A more modern turn of phrase might be to say...

"The consumer isn't a moron. They are your life partner..."

But I'm sure you understand what Ogilvy was suggesting. You don't think the people you love are morons so why would other consumers be morons..?

It is fair to say though that for a long time -- certainly since globalisation kicked up a few gears after WWII -- that the tables have often been balanced in favour of large corporations.

The average consumer lacked good information about the corporations they consumed from. The means of communications with large companies were overly structured and stratified. And at times there was a lack of choice and there was certainly a lack of consumer 'solidarity'.

However with the rise of the internet and particularly social media this is changing -- quite significantly.

Let's put this in context. 15 years ago very few people knew what a search engine was or how to shop online. Most thought the internet was a haunt of geeks. And dial up was hardly impressive. But last year Google turned over $60bn and Amazon made $75bn.

Just 10 years ago no one had heard of social media. Today Facebook has over 1bn users and turned over nearly $8bn last year.

And to look at it another way, since the rise of the Internet $40bn or 2/3rds of the market value of print media has vanished -- gone elsewhere.

We are also seeing a new generation of entrepreneurs with very different social attitudes rise to prominence. They have a more 'liberal' approach and seem to believe they can use their businesses to truly change the world.

Google's slogan says "don't be evil". OkCupid blocked the FireFox browser because Mozilla appointed a CEO opposed to gay marriage. And even more recently Elon Musk of PayPal released over 250 patents for his electric car company Tesla -- to increase innovation and competition in the industry.

We might even call this neo-philanthropism. And this can be seen in the generosity of many tech founders. Bill Gates is a prominent example. But just last year super-nerd Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook, gave $992m to charitable causes.

But of course change does not occur without its problem. The rise of the internet has led to the rise of big data and the ability to track vast amounts of information about individuals. And while most companies may only use it to annoy us with adverts the data can be used for far more sinister purposes.

Government's around the world are very interested in this data. And I would argue not because they wish to protect us from the 'terrorists'. But because it provides them with incredible insights, power and the ability to control society. One might argue it has the potential to turn the average bureaucrat into one of Plato's philosopher kings...

All clouds though have a silver lining. And one can argue that without the internet WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden could never have happened. We also have far greater exposure to what our government's get up to in far off lands. And as with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant we can see the very real and very brutal consequences of their actions like never before.

So while this change is not a bed of roses. Or at least we must remember all roses have their thorns. To suggest something significant isn't occurring is quite simply ridiculous. We are at the beginning of the greatest social and technological change since the industrial revolution. Quite where this will take us we can't be sure.

However it is already beginning to affect us. Particularly in the way we consume. On the surface and on a fundamental level consumption hasn't changed. We still buy things we need, want and don't need from trusted suppliers. Often this is to our benefit and occasionally not.

But at no stage previously has the consumer had more choice, more information and more power. And this is having a significant impact on companies and corporations.

One important change is the rise of the niche consumer. Consumers can now live their lives without the need to engage with the major corporations. Platforms like eBay which allow anyone to sell anything to anyone now turn over $16bn and support a global economy of 'market traders'.

Millenials, those born after 1979, have very different attitudes and buying habits to older generations. Research shows that 72% of them now research products online before they purchase in store. One third only purchase what is necessary and refuse to pay full price. And 32% don't buy from companies who have distasteful social practices. Put simply Millenials are more informed and take more care over their purchases because for the first time, they can.

As American retail expert and Forbes contributor Robin Lewis says...

"Having thousands of places to shop quickly right at their fingertips, or in a niche boutique conveniently located across the street, Millennials are increasingly pursuing special, exclusive “just-for-me” products — because they can. Given this shift in behavior, why would they want to go to a store selling clothes that appear on the bodies of millions of their peers?"

This growing level of choice the internet offers and consumer demand for exclusivity is leading to more competition and less stability for companies and industries.

We've already seen the collapse of chunks of the traditional music industry. Stores like HMV and Woolworths have disappeared and been replaced by platforms such as Spotify. An App that gives music fans far greater control and choice over the music that they listen to.

New Taxi Apps like Uber and Lyft are causing outrage among our corporate friends the black cab drivers. Because the cost is lower, the service is of a higher standard and the process far more efficient for everyone.

Even the bastion of corporate, regulated monopolism -- British banking -- is under threat. Platforms like Zopa allow people to borrow and lend among themselves. PayPal is almost doing away with the need for a bank account. And crowd funding websites like KickStarter and Indiegogo allow businesses and individuals to raise capital directly from consumers, fans and investors.

Never before have so many companies been under so much threat. And that's without discussing BitCoin...

A second very important aspect of this process is social media. Which is driving forward the concept of the social consumer.

This new consumer shares the purchases they make and the experiences they have with their friends, connections and followers. A reciprocal process that helps better inform everyone about the marketplace and increases consumer 'solidarity'.

Twitter and Facebook have played a significant role in this. Imagine imagine them like a ticker tape. Not for stock prices -- but for everything. Where is the coolest new place to eat? Twitter. Which politician has said something stupid today? Facebook. Which celeb slept with their brother's wife? Twitter. It's all their, a constant flow of useful and trivial information shared between peers.

Nearly 90% of Millenials now use Facebook and as research shows 50% of consumers have made a purchase based on an online recommendation. And over 90% of people have been influenced by online word of mouth or recommendations from people they know.

In addition the social consumer can now engage with companies in an open way that they control. This means that businesses can no longer hide bad service. 30%-50% of social media users now use it for customer support or to engage with brands because it's quicker and they're more likely to get a decent response. Companies now know the potential reach of a complaint or review is infinitely greater than ever before. And this is breaking down the traditional structures of communication.

There are many wonderful examples of the power of social media. For example, regardless of your opinions on corporation tax, when it was revealed that Starbucks had paid very little in the UK they knew about it. Very quickly. Their #SpreadTheCheer hash tag was hijacked resulting in profanity laden Tweets appearing on big screens at the Natural History museum in London where they sponsored the ice rink.

And ultimately this helped lead to Starbucks making the unprecedented decision of paying more corporation tax. Something they were not obliged to do on any level -- legal or otherwise.

But its not all negative. Gate crash and viral marketing have allowed good and clever companies to connect with more customers and in far more innovative ways than ever before.

A tiny US company called Dollar Shave Club, which allows men to sign up up to a monthly razor subscription, released a cheap advert on YouTube. It was called, "Our Blades Are F***ing Great" the video was so amusing that it went viral and has now been viewed 14m times. One cannot imagine how much they would have had to pay an advertiser for the same reach.

Oreo also used social media to great effect during the 2012 super bowl. During the game the lights went out for 34 minutes. Oreo responded to this by posting an image on Twitter with the caption, "You can still dunk in the dark". It resulted in 15,000 retweets and 20,000 likes. For a company that didn't pay millions to advertise at the Super Bowl this was a great result.

Social media, is not only giving consumers more power. As was the case with Starbucks. It’s also forcing companies to engage with their customers in a more real and innovative manner as can be seen with Oreo.

To sum up. While we must accept that the development of the internet and the growth of social media has not occurred without problems. And will continue to raise challenges we must overcome. It has and is in many areas leading to positive change.

It is leading to significant challenges for the corporate incumbents and is forcing many to change and improve. But ultimately it has given the consumer a lot more choice and information and as a result power. Something that can only be a very good thing for our market economy.

This was the basis for my talk at the Six Twenty Club hosted by the wonderful Christian Michel.