Obama and other big names on Twitter lose millions of fake followers

From left: Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Barack Obama were some of the high-profile names who lost millions of fake Twitter followers, on July 12, 2018. 
PHOTOS: REUTERS
From left: Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Barack Obama were some of the high-profile names who lost millions of fake Twitter followers, on July 12, 2018. PHOTOS: REUTERSPHOTOS: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Many celebrities, politicians and social media influencers found their Twitter followings knocked down a few digits on Thursday (July 12) as the company slashed tens of millions of suspicious accounts from users' followers.

For example, actor Ashton Kutcher, an active member since the company's early days who led many other celebrities to embrace the platform, lost more than one million of his followers. On Wednesday afternoon, he had 19.1 million. By Thursday evening, that was down to 18 million, a drop of nearly 6 per cent.

Oprah Winfrey, who sent her inaugural tweet in 2009, lost about 1.4 million followers between Wednesday and Thursday evening. Ellen DeGeneres lost two million, leaving her at 76.1 million followers. Basketball star Shaquille O'Neal also lost about one million, dropping from 15.3 million followers. Rihanna lost more than two million - but she still has 86.8 million people watching her tweets.

Ms Aly Pavela, a Twitter spokesman, said the work of locking and eliminating accounts suspected to be fake will continue over the coming days.

The company is taking action to restore trust in its platform. Many users have inflated their followers with automated or fake accounts, buying the appearance of social influence to bolster their political activism, business endeavours or entertainment careers.

When the work is done, Twitter expects it will have reduced the total follower count on the platform by about 6 per cent - a substantial drop.

President Donald Trump, who has used Twitter as a way to speak directly to both loyal voters and critics, lost about 340,000 followers in the Twitter purge, knocked down from 53.4 million on Wednesday to 53 million.

His predecessor Barack Obama took a much bigger hit, losing three million followers in about one day.

The social media company itself was not spared. Twitter's main account lost about 12 per cent of its total followers (about 7.7 million) from Wednesday to Thursday. Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey lost about 230,000 followers between Wednesday and Thursday evening.

And in the interest of full disclosure: The main account of The New York Times dropped by nearly 732,000 followers, starting at about 42.3 million on Wednesday and hitting 41.6 million on Thursday evening.

But even more typical users saw losses in the hundreds or thousands. Many journalists with robust Twitter pages saw their followings reduced, although some took it in stride.

Twitter's move could also be felt in high government offices around the world.

President of Rwanda Paul Kagame lost about one-third of his Twitter followers in one day. On Wednesday, Mr Kagame, who has been Rwanda's top leader for nearly two decades, had about 1.8 million followers. On Thursday evening, that number dropped to 1.2 million.

Queen Rania of Jordan lost about 300,000 followers, dropping from 10.9 million to 10.6 million in one day. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost more than 200,000, leaving him with 13 million.

Even Pope Francis shed 100,000 from his digital flock. He has 17 million remaining.

Mr Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary under president George W. Bush, noticed his shrinking following on his own. "If you are a fake person following me, please raise your hand," he joked.

 

An investigation by The Times in January found that one small company in Florida sold fake followers and other social media engagement to hundreds of thousands of users around the world, including politicians, models, actors and authors. The revelations prompted calls in Congress for intervention by the Federal Trade Commission and investigations in at least two states.

In the aftermath of this week's follower purge, people who have built their celebrity on social media platforms took a hit as well. Kim Kardashian West lost about 3 per cent of her Twitter following, dropping down to about 58.5 million as of Thursday evening. Justin Bieber had been stripped of about three million followers, while Ariana Grande lost about 932,000.

Some celebrities saw more than just a meagre cut. Ms Kathy Ireland, the onetime swimsuit model who today presides over a half-billion-dollar licensing empire, lost a whopping 77 per cent of her followers between Wednesday and Thursday evening.