President Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account draws a steady stream of new followers. The question is, are the followers real? Or are they robotic accounts, designed to look like human followers but actually just computerized accounts?
A viral outpouring Tuesday of posts suggested that Trump’s personal Twitter account had grown by millions of followers in recent days and that many were not real.
But a Twitter spokesman, Nicholas Pacilio, called the methodologies used by twitteraudit.com “very flawed,” and disputed that Trump’s account contained an inordinate number of non-human followers or that it had grown at all in recent days.
“He didn’t gain three million followers at all,” Pacilio said.
He said many Twitter users are new at social media and may not appear active.
“Many, many, many users don’t tweet ever. But they are real people who log on every day,” Pacilio said.
Trump has little control over who follows his tweets. Either allies or enemies could be looking to boost followers of his Twitter account, and retweet anything he posts.
Trump also has an official Twitter account, @POTUS, which stands for President of the United States. On that account, Trump has 18.1 million followers.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a query about the followers to Trump’s Twitter account. Those behind the twitteraudit.com tool could not be immediately reached.
Automated Twitter bots are turning into a campaign tool to sway elections, swamping social media with fake news or messages and retweeting anything a candidate posts to suggest a landslide following. Usually, the bot accounts show no image of a person, just a symbol.
Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey told analysts in an April earnings call that robotic accounts were not as prevalent as some social scientists have suggested.
“We found that less than five percent of Twitter accounts are spam-related, but we’re always testing our tools and continuing to invest in machine learning and deep learning tools to make sure that we better address any spam vectors or any fake accounts in that sense,” Dorsey said.
During the 2016 presidential race, U.S. authorities say, Russia used robotic-like computer commands to dramatically widen the reach of news stories – some fictional – that favored Trump’s presidential bid and were detrimental to that of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
These strategically timed cyber offensives would send computerized armies to circulate the internet, snatching selected news items and spreading them widely via Twitter and Facebook accounts. In some cases, an Oxford University study of Michigan voters found, recipients received more messages carrying “junk” social media tweets than they did legitimate news.
While an avid user of Twitter, Trump has never quite reached the level of former President Barack Obama, whose @barackobama account has 89.2 million followers. Twitteraudit says that the last time his account was audited, four months and one week ago, 79 percent of Obama’s followers were human and 21 percent appeared to be bots.
Twitter users on Tuesday had a field day with suggestions of a surge in Trump’s followers, which Pacilio said began with one unverified – and untrue – tweet.
Some posted images of the new followers, showing how they appeared to be fake. Others suggested that Trump’s account was suddenly gaining as many as 100 followers a minute.
Trump is renowned for his Twitter blasts, sometimes tweeting multiple times an hour, aiming his attacks at “fake media” and Democratic opponents.
On Memorial Day, the president suggested in a tweet that Americans would be better off reading his tweets than getting their news from the media.
“The Fake News Media works hard at disparaging & demeaning my use of social media because they don’t want America to hear the real story!” Trump tweeted. That message was retweeted – passed to other Twitter users – nearly 28,000 times.
Kevin G. Hall contributed to this article.