At the end of last week’s series on social media use among local news outlets, I noted that, as with every study, more research is needed. I also noted something I wished I would’ve seen earlier: a site that can audit the Twitter followers for any handle.
Founded in 2012, TwitterAudit.com bills itself as “a good way to tell if someone with lots of followers is likely to have increased their follower count by inorganic, fraudulent or dishonest means.” The site claims no affiliation with Twitter. It works like this:
Each audit takes a random sample of 5000 Twitter followers for a user and calculates a score for each follower. This score is based on number of tweets, date of the last tweet, and ratio of followers to friends. We use these scores to determine whether any given user is real or fake.
In light of this potentially useful new tool, I’m revisiting the data set from the social-media series to examine the “audited” numbers that this online tool spits out. Should be fun!
Much like the previous study, this addendum of sorts will fail to exhibit any semblance of scientific rigor. Although I’m aware that Twitter follower numbers for the handles included have changed slightly since their original collection, I’m mostly sticking with the original follower numbers as the basis for the audit.
I say “mostly” because NonDoc’s follower data had to be updated, otherwise we clocked in at over 100 percent “real” followers. I mean, we come in 27th out of 32 for followers overall, so it’s not like we have any delusions of grandeur in this matter (other matters … maybe).
The “audited followers” data were gathered Tuesday between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. For what it’s worth, the number of followers for the largest entities seems to have changed by maybe a couple hundred people at most since the original collection at the end of September, so consider the margin of error for the “percentage real” to be plus-or-minus 3 percent in either direction, just to be safe.
Results: Red Dirt Report emerges as anomaly
|ENTITY||URL / handle||FOLLOWERS (thousands)||AUDITED FOLLOWERS (thousands)||% “REAL”|
|KWTV||news9.com / @NEWS9||84.900||45.304||53.4%|
|KOCO||koco.com / @koconews||60.600||33.732||55.7%|
|The Oklahoman (2)||newsok.com / @NewsOK||56.300||40.859||72.6%|
|KOTV||newson6.com / @NewsOn6||52.100||25.244||48.5%|
|The Tulsa World||tulsaworld.com / @tulsaworld||50.500||37.784||74.8%|
|Oklahoma Gazette||okgazette.com / @okgazette||41.100||24.667||60.0%|
|Red Dirt Report||reddirtreport.com /@reddirtreportOK||37.000||2.149||5.8%|
|KFOR||kfor.com / @kfor||35.500||28.505||80.3%|
|The Lost Ogle||thelostogle.com / @TheLostOgle||34.400||28.051||81.5%|
|KTUL||http://ktul.com / @KTULNews||33.700||17.139||50.9%|
|KOKI||fox23.com / @FOX23||32.800||16.744||51.0%|
|The Oklahoman (1)||oklahoman.com / @TheOklahoman||32.100||21.463||66.9%|
|KJRH||kjrh.com/news / @KJRH2HD||30.200||15.337||50.8%|
|KOKH||okcfox.com / @OKCFOX||23.200||15.660||67.5%|
|The Oklahoma Daily||oudaily.com / @OUDaily||15.500||12.825||82.7%|
|The Journal Record||journalrecord.com / @JournalRecord||12.100||10.378||85.8%|
|The Norman Transcript||normantranscript.com / @NormanNews||7.609||6.508||85.5%|
|Oklahoma Watch||oklahomawatch.org / @OklahomaWatch||5.660||5.133||90.7%|
|Enid News & Eagle||enidnews.com / @enidnews||3.044||2.510||82.5%|
|The Okie||theokie.com / @okiepolitics||1.700||1.669||98.2%|
|Frontier||readfrontier.com / @readfrontier||1.681||1.631||97.0%|
|KETA||oeta.tv/programs/onr / @ONR||1.647||1.509||91.6%|
|KOED||oeta.tv/programs/onr / @ONR||1.647||1.509||91.6%|
|McCarville Report||mccarvillereport.com / @McCarvilleRept||1.507||1.359||90.2%|
|The Daily Ardmoreite||ardmoreite.com / @Ardmoreite||1.046||0.899||85.9%|
|Oxford Karma (defunct)||oxfordkarma.com / @oxfordkarmamag||0.986||0.955||96.9%|
|NonDoc||nondoc.com / @nondocmedia||0.659||0.647||98.2%|
|KRSU||rsu.edu / @RSUPublicTV||0.308||0.288||93.5%|
|Forty-Six News||fortysixnews.com / @FortySixNews||0.260||0.250||96.2%|
|El Nacional||noticiasoklahoma.com / @Elnacionalok||0.240||0.186||77.5%|
|KXAP||teletul.com / @TELETULNOTICIAS||0.130||0.095||73.1%|
|KTUZ||unidosok.com / @KTUZ||0.112||0.091||81.3%|
In general, it appears that, as an entity’s Twitter followers increase, the likelihood that those followers are “real” according to Twitter Audit decreases. For example, among the top-five local media entities by number of followers on Twitter, “real” followers constitute only about 60 percent of all Twitter followers on average. Meanwhile, among the bottom-five handles included in this study, the average of “real” followers registers somewhere around 84 percent.
The one glaring anomaly present in the data concerns Red Dirt Report. Ranking at No. 7 by followers overall, the @reddirtreportOK handle exhibits only a 5.8 percent likelihood that any one of its 37,000-plus followers are “real,” according to the Twitter audit. I ran the audit several times, but the result remained the same. @NewsOn6 ranks second-lowest with regard to “real” followers, with only 48.5 percent considered actual, active users. All other entities display at least a 50 percent rate or better from there.
The explanation for RDR’s anomalously low score and KOTV’s sub-50-percent rating on TwitterAudit.com could have stemmed from to those organizations purchasing Twitter followers. Buying a thousand followers costs somewhere between $12 and $19. While this may be a good strategy for some, there are a few reasons why it’s a bad idea.
However, not all accounts with a high degree of fake followers are just gaming the system, as there is at least one case of a Twitter user being “bot bombed.”
In sum …
At the end of the day, the numbers of followers, real or fake, truly mean nothing. The most important metric for any news entity or advertiser is engagement. From a journalism and civic-minded perspective, a person should seek to know which entities encourage and facilitate the most dialogue between viewers and readers. That would potentially reveal something meaningful about the outlet’s impact on the local-media landscape, and, dare I say it, democracy as a whole.
From an advertiser’s perspective, a salesperson or potential client would want to know which entities create the most engagement through likes and shares, retweets and follows and, ultimately, traffic driven to an organization’s site where the advertisements actually exist. That would be a useful way to determine if that outlet is worth the money a business could spend to purchase airtime, pixels or inches from a news outlet, and potentially point to the likelihood of that audience to actual buy something sold on that website.
All of the entities included in this story, including NonDoc, are businesses, except for OETA and Oklahoma Watch. Like any business, we have a singular necessity: profit. In the modern news game, earning profit has become difficult for traditional journalism, which now must compete with the high-traffic lanes of clickbait, listicles, time wasters and gossip on the information superhighway. If buying a bunch of Twitter followers works for a news outlet, then I say more power to them, but you won’t see NonDoc doing it.
To quote Twitter Audit, obtaining followers through “inorganic, fraudulent, or dishonest means” would go against a fundamental principle of our mission statement: the truth.