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How Did DC Fare in the Great Twitter Purge?

Tue, 07/24/2018

The great Twitter purge of 2018 has come and gone.

By Ian Gray, Wyeth Ruthven, Andrew Rugg, Archie Smart and Natalie Copeland

The great Twitter purge of 2018 has come and gone. Articles detailing the judgment of the all-mighty Twitter bot detection algorithm on top celebrities have been widely reported. Yes, Ashton Kutcher lost millions of followers. But what about the representative from North Carolina’s 5th congressional district? What about the trade association that represents actual robots? That, surely, is where the real story lies.  

Most of the district’s power players came through the purge relatively unscathed. Most members of Congress and trade associations lost followers at or below the national rate. The average loss of followers across tracked Twitter handles for members of Congress was a mere 0.13% from July 11th to July 17th. Trade associations with a major DC presence lost an average of 2% of their followers.

The following members of Congress lost the most Twitter followers as a percent of their total follower count across the seven days. Rep Kathleen Rice (D-NY 4) lost the largest share of followers with a 2.8% loss. She’s also the only Democrat on the top ten list. The rest are all Republicans. 

Percent Change

The following trade associations with a DC presence lost the largest share of followers. The American Beverage Association lost the most with a 2.5% loss over the seven days. The Biotechnology Innovation Organization lost the second most with 2.4%.


Trade Associations

When Twitter announced that approximately 6 percent of accounts would be stripped of their ability to follow in the purge, we established 6% as our baseline. Any account that lost 6 percent or more of their followers would be suspected of buying bots or creating fake followers. Clearly, no one in DC, on Capitol Hill or K Street, came close to that 6 percent threshold. The 1-2 percent drop in followers for these accounts is within the margin of everyday churn on social media. Bots follow lots of accounts, and lots of accounts attract a certain number of bots in the ordinary course of business online.

So it comes as no surprise that celebrity accounts -- where bragging rights and vanity metrics are highly prized -- wound up being the biggest losers in the Twitter purge. In DC, numbers are no substitute for influence, and there is no real benefit to be derived from an inflated Twitter account. The old adage that Washington is "Hollywood for ugly people" has been proven right, and DC Twitter is Hollywood for Unpopular Bots.

But bragging rights are bragging rights, so here are some of the key matchups we followed in during the great twitter purge:

  • @cavs (-1.23%) vs @warriors (-0.80%)
  • @lakers (-4.90) vs @celtics (-2.60%)
  • @KingJames (-2.08%) vs @stephencurry30 (-0.86%)
  • At the All-Star Break: @yankees (-2.07%) vs @redsox (-1.69%)
  • On Twitter, Croatia won the World Cup: @hns_cff (+13.19%) vs @equipedefrance (1.69%)
  • Imma let you finish, but Beyonce had more fake followers: @beyonce (-4.26) vs. @taylorswift13 (-2.78%)
  • Meanwhile: @kanyewest only lost -2.76%

Even as the winners and losers emerge from the Twitter follower ashes, bots will likely continue to plague online social accounts for the near future, despite Twitter’s efforts. That is true both inside and outside the Beltway.

The number of real humans that are listening and paying attention, not a count of followers, is the best judge of online influence. Organizations looking to build their social media presence should look beyond a grind to increase followers to enhance the power of their voice on topics of importance.    

But perhaps most importantly, we are left to wonder if DC groups don’t engage in Twitter bot use or are just better at it than celebrities. Only time will tell.

MSL’s Washington team is highly experienced on digital and social media consulting. For a conversation and assessment of your corporate social media followings, please reach out to Andrew Rugg.
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