Mitt Romney has 100,000 new Twitter followers. Or does he?
Mitt Romney's 100,000 new Twitter followers are fake, says Barracuda Labs. Do social media followers matter to the campaign?
Providence, R. I.
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It may seem trivial, but not to social networking junkies or campaigns mindful of the need to project a digital image of popularity and power.
An analysis by the technology firm Barracuda Labs found most of the Twitter users who followed Romney over that July weekend were probably fake, although it's impossible to know who's behind the spike: Romney's campaign, a supporter or an opponent. Romney went from 673,000 to 814,000 followers during that time, though that number has since risen to more than 861,000. President Barack Obama has more than 18 million followers.
Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign's digital director, said the campaign did not purchase the followers and the number is not something they care about.
"If winning were about having the most Twitter followers, Obama would get blown up by Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber," Moffatt said. "It's whether people are retweeting or sharing. That is what is of value to us."
Retweeting is passing someone else's message on to the people who follow you on Twitter.
Brian Frederick, a professor of political science at Massachusetts' Bridgewater State University, said some lesser-known candidates might see a benefit from bulked-up followers if it means reporters and activists take them more seriously. It's a way for a candidate to create an illusion of popularity.
But Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University, said there are no upsides and many downsides for any campaign that fakes its following because voters don't really care about the numbers.
"They do care if you're a fraud. They do care if you're lying about who supports you," Schiller said. "Why risk your credibility as a politician by engaging in that?"
Social media can be key in motivating campaign supporters, although experts say quality is more important than quantity. About 80 people work in the Romney campaign's digital department, a large portion of them on social media, Moffatt said. The Obama campaign said social media allow the campaign to communicate directly with voters without a filter but would not say how many of its staffers are directly engaged in it.