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According to an article on ARS Technica, looks like ol' Willard M. may be doing some creative astroturfing through Twitter. Big shock, right? Could Obama's campaign, and perhaps others, be doing the same? What kind of effects could this produce for the election itself? Details below the fold.

ARS Technica is running an article, dated Aug. 6th, on how the Romney campaign may be using paid-for fake Twitter accounts to boost visibility.

According to said article, Romney's @MittRomney Twitter feed saw a huge influx of followers on July 21st: 116,922, to be exact. Network security firm Barracuda Labs took a closer look, and determined a quarter of the new accounts used to generate the spike were less than four days old, and 23 percent of them had never posted a single tweet. Ten percent of these accounts have since been suspended by Twitter for unspecified reasons.

As of Aug. 6th, Romney's Twitter account showed a little over 782,000 followers. Just for contrast, I took a look at Obama's twitter page: 18,307,036 Followers, more than ten times Romney's number.

I will be the first to admit some ignorance of how significant this is. I don't do the social-networking thing (no Facebook, no Twitter), and Barracuda Labs also had no way to tell if the surge in Romney's number came from his own campaign or individual supporters. At the time of this writing, the Romney campaign staff have yet to comment on the story.

What it does illustrate, I think, is the potential for abuse of social media. A search for the keywords 'Twitter follower service' on Ixquick (Google's newest search competitor, rapidly becoming my preferred source) snares over 3,400 results. Ebay is no different, with over 170 results.

Granted, Twitter's rules prohibit such things, but enforcement seems to be lacking. I don't find this a surprise, considering how quickly and easily an account can be created. Considering a count of 500 million active accounts, as of 2012, It would take enormous (and enormously expensive) effort to verify every single account holder was who they claimed to be.

So: What effect could this have on the general election this November? Has social media, and the technology required to use it, reached a point where it can have a significant impact?

If so, how could one sort out 'the wheat from the chaff,' as it were? I suspect elections, in this day and age, are decided more on emotional impact and marketing than any amount of 'dull' facts. If true, how do you handle it?

Thanks for reading.

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