It looks like someone made the colossally silly decision to buy Mitt Romney Twitter followers. Earlier this month, Romney saw an implausible spike of 150,000 Twitter followers, and many of these likely fake accounts had less than 2 followers, according to some crack reporting by The Atlantic. It is unknown whether the purchase was made by someone at Camp Romney, a clueless PR flack, or a conspirator trying to make him look bad. Regardless, fibbing politicians are a serious affront to democracy, and someone owes the American people an explanation.
Up until Romney’s Twitter spike, his account had been growing at a slow-but-steady 3,500 followers a day, prompting widespread speculation of fraud after the surge occurred in a few weeks ago.
To test whether or not the media had unearthed something legitimate, or were just aching for a cheap corruption story, The Atlantic performed a simple statistical analysis on Romney’s new followers to test if they somehow differed from both Barack Obama’s followers.
Humans typically have more followers than automated accounts, since they Tweet more interesting information and they share similar interests with other netizens. More sophisticated automated accounts will boost their follower account by following one another, but they do so in a (statistically) recognizable way, and can be ferreted out by comparing the way humans cluster together. The study concluded:
“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… the p-value on this was 0.0000.”
The “p-value”, if readers recall from their college Statistics class, is how likely an event could have happened by chance. A coin flipping heads has a p-value of 0.5, for instance. A p-value of <0.0000 means that Romney is about as likely to get hit by a meteor as his is to get 150,000 followers in a few days.
Earlier in the campaign, Romney’s fellow Republican colleague, Newt Gingrich, got in hot water for buying Twitter popularity. “Newt employs a variety of agencies whose sole purpose is to procure Twitter followers for people who are shallow/insecure/unpopular enough to pay for them. As you might guess, Newt is most decidedly one of the people to which these agencies cater,” a staffer admitted to Gawker.
Now, we’ve argued that social media is an over-hyped asset for political campaigns. If no one under the age of 30 had voted for Obama in 2008, he still would have won every state but two. The fact that Obama has 17 million more followers than Romney is probably inconsequential. But, truthfulness from someone who could be the most powerful man in the world is important. Zach Moffatt, Romney’s otherwise impressive digital director, has denied that the campaign is involved in inflating its Twitter account.
But, someone is buying followers. It’d be a win for the Romney campaign and for the integrity of the office of the President if they were honest about who is responsible.