Fake Twitter Accounts Are A Hot Commodity On The Black Market

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One day earlier this month, Jim Vidmar bought 1,000 fake Twitter accounts for $58 from an online vendor in Pakistan. He then programmed the accounts to "follow" the Twitter account of rapper Dave Murrell, who calls himself Fyrare and pays Mr. Vidmar to boost his standing on the social network. Mr. Vidmar's fake accounts also rebroadcast Mr. Murrell's tweets, amplifying his Twitter voice. Mr. Murrell says he sometimes buys Twitter ads to raise his profile, "but you'll get more with Jim." He says many Twitter users try to make their followings look bigger than they are. "If you're not padding your numbers, you're not doing it right," he says. "It's part of the game." [...] For 10 months in 2012 and 2013, a team of researchers from the University of California Berkeley and George Mason University worked with Twitter's security department to help identify fake accounts and minimize robot activity. The team bought fake accounts on the black market, identified common characteristics, and developed a filter that would block roughly 95% of such accounts. Twitter's previous system caught about 8% of fake accounts, the researchers said. They presented the results at an academic conference. In April, Twitter and the researchers applied the filter. Mr. Vidmar says he remembers the day, because most of his fake accounts were deleted, and he couldn't create new ones. "They cleaned house," he says. But Mr. Vidmar and others say the underground market quickly adapted. The researchers' system flagged accounts with incomplete profiles, no pictures, and little activity. In response, Mr. Vidmar says suppliers now fill out more account details, add pictures, and tweet from the accounts before selling them. That drove up the cost of fake accounts. But marketers and researchers say the black market is again thriving. [WSJ]

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