Sometime around July 21, Mitt Romney’s Twitter account saw a bizarre spike in follower numbers, to the tune of 150,000 or so new accounts in about 48 hours. The presidential candidate’s opponents might be quick to blame Mr. Romney or his campaign, but Mr. Romney’s digital director already told Buzzfeed the campaign had nothing to do with it. Either way, someone clearly fluffed the former Massachusetts governor’s follower count with fakes and The Atlantic crunched the numbers to prove it. The post by Alexander Furnas and Devin Gaffney is densely detailed:
According to a random sample of 1000 followers from the candidates’ accounts, 26.9% of Romney’s 150,000 newest followers had fewer than 2 followers. For other accounts of similar size, only 9.6% of new followers had less than 2 followers themselves. The median number of followers for Romney’s new followers was 5, whereas the median for the comparison group was 27. This represents a stark, and statistically significant difference. If you are a statistics nerd, like us, you might want to know that the p-value on this was 0.0000. For the rest of the world, this means that there is, essentially, a zero percent chance that the underlying characteristics of Romney’s followers are actually the same as the comparison users.
TechCrunch helpfully explains the p-value statement by noting that the p-value of 0.0000 means “Romney is about as likely to get hit by a meteor as his is to get 150,000 followers” in just 2 days.
A quick glance at Mr. Romney’s Twitter followers today suggests new fake accounts continue to follow the candidate. Multiple accounts with no tweets and no followers, following the governor and perhaps 3 or 4 other political Twitter feeds, always yielded an account creation date of July 31.
The most intriguing explanation for why someone might be inflating Mr. Romney’s social media profile was offered by TechCrunch’s Gregory Ferenstein, who wrote that no one knows if followers were bought “by someone at Camp Romney, a clueless PR flack, or a conspirator trying to make him look bad.”
Mr. Romney’s campaign or a misguided Romney supporter purchasing followers would be a pretty minor embarrassment. A Romney opponent purchasing fake followers in an attempt to make the Republican nominee “look bad” might be a much more interesting tale of Twittery political intrigue.