Sixty-four percent of Donald Trump's 7.51 million Twitter followers have not been in use for at least the past six months, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis.
Additionally, using StatusPeople.com's Twitter analysis app, Faker, which analyzes the quality of a user's Twitter following, the Free Beacon found that as of April 9, just over half a million (525,700, or 7 percent) of Trump's followers were considered "fake."
If not for the media's fascination with Trump's Twitter usage, much of what he posts would fall on deaf ears. Only 2.2 million of his followers were found to be legitimate active accounts.
Observers have also noted other strange activity on Twitter apparently linked to the effort to secure the GOP nomination for Trump.
Patrick Ruffini, a Republican digital strategist and co-founder of the firm Echelon Insights, noted on Thursday that a number of Twitter accounts were tweeting the same anti-Cruz message calling for people to complain to the Federal Communications Commission about Cruz Campaign robocalls.
“If you've opted out of @TedCruz robocalls and are still receiving calls u can file a complaint with the #FCC here: https://t.co/Ja2InDfBKn, ” first tweeted a pro-Trump account called “WDFx2EU.”
In a document posted to Google, Ruffini showed that between 4:18 P.M. on Thursday to 2:12 A.M. on Friday, the tweet was retweeted 490 times at an average rate of several times per minute. Within an hour of the initial tweet, the meme had been reposted 274 times at an average rate of 4.56 times per minute.
On Friday, Ruffini found that the tweets had been taken down and a number of the accounts had been suspended.
“All of these people who retweeted it on their own have either been suspended or removed the tweet on their own,” Ruffini told the Free Beacon. “Which is very interesting that there is that level of coordination that they’re going out and deleting all instances of it even when they haven’t been suspended.”
“I don’t know why they would take it down. The tweet itself is not anything outrageous,” he said.
Many of the same accounts also tweeted pornographic messages and threats at Ruffini, he said.
Further analysis of the account “WDFx2EU,” which currently boasts 89,567 total followers as of April 10, revealed the account was created three months ago on Jan. 8. Using StatusPeople’s app, the Free Beacon found that 61 percent (54,636) of the account’s followers are either fake or inactive; 23 percent are fake, 38 percent are inactive.
Ruffini’s find, however, was only the latest example of fake pro-Trump accounts tweeting in apparent coordination.
In February following the Nevada primary, a number of Latino Twitter accounts all began posting what appeared to be a copy-and-paste of the same message: “Trump won around 40% of the latino vote in Nevada, but that accounts for about 1,300 votes. Still, more than the two hispanics on the ballot[.]”
Ruffini said the behavior he observed was similar.
The tweets have since been deleted, but Mediaite’s Alex Griswold managed to capture screenshots of the phenomenon and noted that the cited data was suspect.
“That statistic is based on a single entrance poll which only polled 135 Latinos, meaning it has an extremely high margin of error,” wrote Griswold.
Use of fake accounts on social media is far from a new practice for organizations, political campaigns, and government agencies.
Governments use social media for surveillance and psychological operations: law enforcement and intelligence agencies use the platforms to both collect information and influence public opinion on the social media sphere.
Political movements also use fake accounts, for example, to influence perceptions about the popularity of a particular cause, law, or regulation.
Fake accounts posting spam to the network might also start following a user based on their popularity.
Ruffini said the behavior he observed seemed more “run-of-the-mill,” as though some entity had commandeered a botnet used to send tweets for Viagra and are using it for their own purposes.
“Whether it’s doing the bidding of the Trump folks, or they’re doing it on they’re own, it’s just interesting, that’s all,” he said.
Fake followers can be purchased over the Web with relative ease. For example, BuyCheapFollowersFast.com lists a Twitter follower package on sale for as little as $1 for 100 new followers. Devumi, a social media marketing firm, sells a 2,500 follower plan on its site for $39.
The Trump Campaign did not return the Free Beacon‘s request for comment.