2017 has proven to be the year where Russia’s malicious cyber operations have been exposed.
For years, RT and Sputnik, both Kremlin-based media outlets, engaged in covert propaganda warfare, especially leading up to the 2016 US Presidential election — see examples here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — but now, they’ve been caught with their pants down.
Today, we’re going to pull the curtain on RT and Sputnik’s possible involvement with fake Twitter followers. You’re in for a treat.
Let’s start with Sputnik.
Sputnik’s Twitter Following
Using basic social media metric tools available to the general public, such as TwitterAudit, we can see that Sputnik has a significant amount of fake Twitter followers, over 50,000 — but the ‘real’ number is likely larger for two reasons.
One, this image is two years old, and hasn’t been updated by the Twitter user. And two: given that the followers has increased to over 200,000, it’s probably safe to say that close to 100,000, or half of its total following, are fake, inactive followers. TwitterAudit doesn’t always pick up all the fake bots.
Sputnik’s (@SputnikInt) real twitter following is likely anywhere between 70,000-100,000, based on our estimate.
RT’s Twitter Following
Now, for Russia Today (RT)’s following on Twitter, things get a bit complicated. Here’s why: Powerful media outlets around the world, not just in Russia, pay big bucks for higher quality ‘active’ followers when their impressions are weak to increase their following.
So that means no public social media metric tool will detect much of the fake followers, so you’ll have to take our word for it.
RT has tens of thousands, if not more, of fake followers. Glancing at other social media accounts, owned by RT, it appears that they also have fake YouTube subscribers and Facebook likes. So the problem doesn’t just halt at Twitter.
Why Use Fake Followers?
For many years, businesses, high-profile celebrities, musicians, actors, politicians, and even news outlets, have all purchased fake followers and likes to shortcut their way to popularity.
Most of the time, marketing employees of companies or managers of public figures will usually seek third-party options, like click farms, to increase their social presence, when they don’t meet their initial goals.
However, getting back to RT and Sputnik, it is quite possible that someone in their company purchased fake followers in order to compensate for lack of engagements or impressions. Perhaps in the past, or in the present time.
Either way, Russian media has a big Twitter problem.