Several months ago I wrote an article for PBS about dealing with “friend inflation” (my term) on Twitter, and the ethics and strategies for following other people. I’ve always been on the very conservative end of following, choosing usually to only follow back people I know in some way. Those who have 20,000 followers and yet they follow 20,000 people? Their network is virtually worthless in my opinion.
But what about those who cash in on those mutual follows only to go and unfollow them afterward? Not only are they falsely inflating their numbers, but they’re doing so under false pretenses. And what happens if Twitter account conducting the shenanigans is owned by a respectable news outlet?
My colleague Bill Beutler caught Congressional Quarterly using such questionable tactics:
Well, thatâ€™s something. What are we looking at? In the first chart, we can see CQâ€™s followers growing organically since April, only to drop off slightly in the past couple of weeks. But this drop-off is only the ripple from a much bigger change we see in the second chart: after following and unfollowing accounts as it climbed from 4,600 friends to 9,200 (more about this below), CQ decided to shed them all â€” in fits and starts and then, last weekend, it deserted the rest in one fell swoop: somebody spent an entire afternoon (at least) unfollowing some 9,100 Twitter accounts. Or they set up a bot to do it for them.