It’s nice to be liked. Good friends make life bearable and the support they can offer for educators, both socially and professionally, is key to our well being as teachers.
But what is friendship actually worth? On social media at least, it seems to be priced very reasonably. From business gurus to z-list celebrates, there is a growing trend for those trying to make an impact on social media to buy followers from companies who set-up vast numbers of ‘bot’ accounts to increase a user’s follower statistics. Even David Cameron has been caught paying £7,500 for thousands of Facebook likes (https://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/mar/10/david-cameron-facebook-friends-twitter-selfie).
Surely educators are far too sensible to buy followers to increase their social media standing. UKEdChat has been investigating the practice among UK educators on Twitter and we have found alarming evidence that the practice is widespread in the online educator community. We explored how you can spot likely tell tale signs that Twitter users have bought followers and the possible reasons why some educators may wish to artificially inflate their follower numbers.
[pullquote]What psychological need is there for educators to buy followers?[/pullquote]How many Twitter users do you truly interact with on a regular basis? Professor Robin Dunbar has researched, calculating that humans can only cope with around 150 true social relationships or friends at anyone time and this has been suggested that this reflects the size of social groups in the small villages in our evolutionary past. This is known as Dunbar’s number (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar’s_number). So do follower counts matter? Why do we feel the need to have ever more followers? Naturally, we like to think that our followers are hanging on our every tweet and not simply floating away into the huge blackness of obscurity. What psychological need is there for educators to buy followers? Is this an active attempt to ‘market’ themselves with the things they share on social media? Is it because of personal insecurity when looking at the large numbers of followers some online educators command?
It is quite easy to spot bought users on educator accounts. The practice is often referred to on Twitter as ‘egging’, as the user has more than their fair share of followers with the default egg profile picture. However, the bot accounts have become more sophisticated in recent times and the best way to spot them is the profile information. This is meant in the nicest possible way – very few non-educators will find a professional educator account of little interest. Bot accounts have very generic biographies which will not mention anything about education.
The best indicator is seen by looking at a user’s follower increases over time. Below is the graph for @UKEdChat over the past 3 months. As you can see there is very little variation and the line is steady.
UKEdChat (captured 10th May)
Contrast that with this graph for a online UK educator. The graph leaps by 3,000 followers in less than a month after steadily gaining around 500 followers per month for years. The bot followers are added over the course of weeks to bypass Twitter check and to not look quite so suspicious. You can check other users’ accounts yourself by going to https://twittercounter.com
A sudden spike in followers (captured 10th May)
[pullquote]Where do you draw the line?[/pullquote]While gaining followers in this way is perfectly legal, what does it tell you about the user behind the tweets? Where do you draw the line? Do you actively try to attract followers and where do you draw the line? Some tweeters ask for re-tweets or post links to old tweets. Some tweeters take top quality material from others sharing without credit to the creator. Another practice is to follow a large number of people in the hope that they follow you back, only unfollow them when they do not reciprocate.
Ultimately those using social media want to be followed. I certainly do, as I think the resources I share are valuable and I wish to improve the education of children around the world, if only in a small way. And yes, there is the feeling that you might actually have a tiny amount of influence on the shape of education. But if you create / share great educational content and links to wonderful resources for others to use, followers will come. Keep your cash in your pocket and the whole community will be a little richer.