Fake followers in the millions, if not billions That's about 43 million accounts that might be bogus. It's a number so large it can't be accurate.
The estimate is based on research from researchers at MIT and Stanford who analyzed the activity of over one million Twitter accounts. They found that approximately 4% of all tweets originated by registered users were spam or malicious content such as automated account updates or links to adult websites. This means that if every single user suppressed their tweeting activity by just 1%, the world would be a better place! Spam accounts represent a small but significant portion of all Twitter accounts. However, they account for a large proportion of all traffic: some studies estimate that as much as 20% of all web requests are made by spammers trying to drive up ad revenue by getting people to visit ads on infected computers.
There are several ways that spammers try to increase the number of people who see their posts. They may offer discounts on products or services, which people are likely to find attractive even if they end up buying something else (for example, "10% off everything"). They may post pictures of beautiful places, then tell people to go look at them instead of taking themselves traveling.
However, an estimated 3 to 4% of the remaining accounts, or around 66 million to 88 million profiles, are likewise false but have not yet been found. Similarly, it is estimated that 9 to 15% of Twitter's 336 million accounts are bogus. Thus, there may be as many as 50 million to 70 million spammy or malicious accounts on the platform.
In February 2015, Twitter reported that it had removed over 740,000 accounts for violations of its policies between May 2014 and April 2015. However, these figures do not include any fraudulent accounts.
In October 2016, a study conducted by researchers at Stanford University concluded that almost half of all social media users are likely being misinformed by political ads on Facebook. The study also revealed that approximately one in four voters on Facebook were shown content related to a candidate in an election that they did not like. The study concluded that fake news can have a significant impact on elections around the world.
In November 2016, Twitter announced that it had removed over $10 million worth of advertisements linked to Russia-based accounts during the 2016 U.S. presidential election season. However, this figure does not include any fraudulent accounts.
In March 2017, Twitter released data showing that in the month prior it had removed 10 million tweets containing links to pornographic websites.
Not surprisingly, some sources claim that up to 20 million fraudulent Twitter accounts exist. With a projected 500 million registered users, this equates to around 4% of all Twitter accounts being false (bots).
Other estimates put the number of fake accounts at 10 million, which is closer to 1% of all Twitter accounts.
Yet another source claims that only 200,000 accounts are fake, which means that 99% of all Twitter accounts are genuine.
All things considered, it seems that most estimates range from 1% to 4% of all accounts being fake. The truth is that we just don't know for sure because there's no way to verify account ownership on Twitter.
What we do know is that bots can generate a huge amount of activity on Twitter. For example, here's a bot that has been tweeting about cats every hour since I started writing this article:
Even if this account was created by someone who wanted to abuse the system, it would need to be running in order to send out messages. This means that it's unlikely that there are more than one or two real people involved.
Bots can also be used to manipulate the conversation on Twitter.