Attack of the zombies
Micro bloggers: have you ever compared the number of fans on your Sina Weibo or Tencent micro blog with those of your friends?
Don't imagine you have more fans just because your number is bigger–some of them might be "zombie fans", or fake followers.
That's what Chen Chuanliang, creator of Lejian Network, found when he bet against his friend several months ago.
Chen, who used to do search and data mining for Microsoft Asia Research Institute, then ran a statistical analysis and screened all the null accounts among his fans.
Not only did he find that he had more real micro blog followers than his friend, he also discovered that there were far more null micro blog accounts than he had imagined.
Later Chen randomly picked 10 celebrity users on Sina Weibo and analyzed their statistics. He found that the average number of fake fans of those celebrities users had reached about 17 percent.
Kai-Fu Lee, the former CEO of Google China, who's on Chen's list of research, posted a message on his micro blog after he found out that he had more than 1 million fake fans (out of about 5 million), joking "I have 1 million zombie fans? If united, we can finally defeat those plants."
According to a report by S Weekly in March, zombie fans on micro blogs are defined as invalid accounts signed up by network companies for the purpose of increasing the number of fans for certain users, especially celebrity ones, and getting them more attention.
And this kind of fake followers are also very much alive on Western social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
The Financial Times reported in August, that Newt Gingrich, a Republican candidate in the US presidential election, bought about 80 percent of his 1.3 million Twitter followers and tried to use them as leverage in his campaign.
There was often speculation because Gingrich's numbers were rather inflated compared to other candidates such as Sarah Palin (with about 620,000 followers) and Mitt Romney (with 64,000 followers).
Now there are also business deals through which users can get hundreds of thousands of fans for their micro blog accounts, by paying a small amount of money.
"We have been working to find ways to block or delete those invalid accounts," Mao Taotao, a spokesperson for Sina Weibo told S Weekly.
"But as the fake accounts evolve so fast, they're going to be here for a while."
Like Gingrich's example, an excessively large number of followers doesn't necessarily mean much unless a user has influence to back it up.
Otherwise, the messages might fall on deaf ears just because of those fake fans.