You know those people who follow everyone they can on Twitter, solely in the hope that these other users will reciprocate, all so they can amass the biggest number of followers who know nothing about them, in a totally meaningless act of self-aggrandizement? Yeah, turns out those people may be ruining Twitter by turning it into a spam-fest, according to a new study titled “Identifying the Community Roles of Social Capitalists in the Twitter Network.”
The study defined “social capitalists” (so-called because they are trying to accumulate “social capital” in the form of followers) as people who want to gain followers “by any means” and “regardless of their content.” Specifically, the study notes that social capitalists on Twitter typically exploit two straightforward principles to amass followers: FMIFY (Follow Me and I Follow You), in which “the user ensures his potential followers that he will follow them back if they follow him first”; and IFYFM (I Follow You, Follow Me), in which “the user systematically follows other users, hoping to be followed back.”
Converting the Twitter universe into a system of nodes (individual user) and clusters of nodes (communities), the researchers analyzed around 160,000 of these promiscuous users with two “topological” tests of “overlap” and “ratio” indices, referring to the proportion of inbound (followed) to outbound (following) neighbors. Social capitalists using the FMIFY approach should have a large degree of overlap between following and followed, since their strategy is based on reciprocity, and the researchers found this is in fact the case. By contrast, social capitalists using the IFYFM approach are more likely to have a lot of unreciprocated connections.
In both cases, capitalists tend to have a disproportionate number of connections outside their immediate community; the more diverse and heterogeneous outbound links are, the more likely a user is to be a social capitalist. In other words, a user with a lot of links to accounts that have no connection to the other members of their immediate community is more likely to have simply followed those accounts at random.The authors note that “most [social capitalists] are well connected to their community, and overall a large part of them spread their links outside their community very efficiently.” And this is not a good thing: by enthusiastically following every account they happen across, including spam accounts, social capitalists decrease the overall utility of the site by increasing the influence of spammers across the network and making it harder for regular users to find relevant content. The authors opine: “Social capitalists are not healthy for a social networking service, since their methods to gain visibility and influence are not based on the production of relevant content and on getting a higher credibility.”