Mitt Romney has gotten extremely popular on Twitter in the last 24 hours. In fact, he is receiving 25 new followers per second as I write.
What's happening? It seems to have started Friday, when Romney's typical average of 3,000-4,000 per day increased more than twenty-five fold to over 100,000 in a single day, according to TwitterCounter.com. But the new followers are highly suspect. From "empty" accounts to pornbots, spambots, Justin Beiber-related accounts, Obama supporters and foreign accounts, the followers tell a puzzling tale, suggesting spam automation, purchased traffic or perhaps even sabotage.
Accounts like "@banvardrazjzk" or "@etonyge" have ten or fewer tweets, some containing gobbledygook characters and despite only following a few accounts themselves, they each have hundreds of followers, implying it's part of a mass-generated fake account network.
Romney's account had over 673,000 followers on July 20 following his typical numbers, but his graph made a "hockey stick" leap yesterday, climbing to over 814,000 currently.
With some onlookers assuming the Romney campaign is buying accounts to pad his numbers, we highly doubt they would be so clumsy. Last summer, Newt Gingrich received embarrassing national press when he had 1.3 million followers at a time no other GOP candidate even had 100,000 followers. The media then had sport reporting over 90% were fake accounts.
It could also be a third party buying them for Romney, outside of the candidate's purview, but with the story now featured by ThinkProgress, Alan Colmes, BuzzFeed and others, it's likely doing Romney more harm than good.
Just this Friday, Rush Limbaugh was exposed as it was discovered that New Delhi was the most popular source for "shares" on his "Rush Babes for America" Facebook promotion. This suggested he was outsourcing "astroturf" by paying experts in India to pad his traffic figures and perceived female support.
But Romney's followers are not necessarily being bought. It could be that he has become more popular because his account is promoted more heavily by Twitter as a "you might want to follow" suggestion. Many of President Obama's 17 million followers are also spambot or questionable accounts, in fact he could have more fake followers than Romney has followers -- but Obama's numbers have climbed predictably where Romney's sudden spike invites more questions.
A study released in June showed Obama had a 25% advantage in "viral reach" over Romney for May, counting retweets, Facebook likes and followers. Another article published by the Philadelphia Inquirer just a week prior delineated the importance of Twitter followings for each of the candidates in swing states like Pennsylvania.
UPDATE: Romney's campaign has denied buying followers and requested information from Twitter to explain the mystery.
This article first appeared July 21, 2012 at NYaltnews.com