What Is A “Fake” Retweet? What Can You Do About It?

A question from a person new to Twitter:

What is it with retweets? On many accounts they seem of no value at all and look nearly random. Plus, I’ve retweeted others but get no reciprocation. Am I missing something?

Fake and semi-fake accounts often use retweets as a means to look real, or to promote/validate other fake accounts. These “fake retweets” are simply part of services that exist to automate Twitter accounts (which is in most case a bad thing).

What is a “fake” Twitter account?

To understand fake retweets, you first have to understand fake accounts.

A fake account is usually one that is created and computer-automated by spammers to look real so they can insert promotional links in some tweets. (If every tweet was a promotional tweet, they would be recognized as spammers and suspended, so this is their way of avoiding being caught.) They’re like websites that try to appear real (often by stealing content from elsewhere) but that are computer-generated and only exist to show ads. It’s popular for a service to create these Twitter accounts by the dozens or hundreds, and then to have them retweet each other to add to the appearance of being “real.”

A semi-fake account is one doing the same things that is managed by a real person instead of a computer. Some people get on Twitter with the sole purpose of sharing sales or promotional links, but take a course in “How to appear like a real person on Twitter” [sigh] and so throw in random retweets from time to time just to “look engaged.” Yes, Twitter can be hard to learn. But “pretending to be real” is not the way!

An in-between type of account is where a real person signs up for a service that will tweet from their account from time to make them look more “real” or more “engaged.” Where this means hiring a social media manager, this can be a reasonable way for some businesses to get started on Twitter, because they are relying on someone with experience for help. But some of these social media management services simply fully or partially computer-automate your account.

So what is a “fake retweet?”

A service that finds interesting information (that you might want to retweet) isn’t a bad thing. And if that service makes it very easy to retweet items, all the better. But where it gets murky is when services provide pre-written items to tweet or retweet. Those that automatically send these pre-written items as tweets from your account are the most problematic. When a social media “management” service makes this is an overly large part of how they work, they’ve crossed the line.

How it works

When something you tweet is picked up by one of these Twitter automation services, you’ll see that particular tweet retweeted endlessly week after week by a group of accounts, sometimes much, much too frequently.

A clue that someone who is otherwise clearly a real and engaged person on Twitter is using a semi-automated service is that they are also retweeting one of these tweets that are retweeted week after week.

We ourselves seem to have about 4-8 or so tweets at any given time that are being mindlessly fake-retweeted by these services (the cleverer services fake-retweet their tweets more infrequently, to be less obvious). Here is an example of accounts that are “fake retweeting” this tweet: “7 Things Keeping You From Becoming an A-list Blogger: http://j.mp/edFCJA /via @WritersGroup.” (@WritersGroup is one of our other accounts on Twitter, @TweetSmarter being our main one.)

And yes—of course—this is something we originally tweeted because we like the content! We have no connection of any kind to the website it appeared on or the blogger who wrote it. (In fact we had never heard of either before coming across this post.) Here’s another example of something that is getting a lot of fake retweets, and another.

What about the “other” kind of fake retweet?

This is where someone retweets you…but you never said it in the first place! Example “RT @user I love this snake oil! Everyone should click here to buy some today!” It’s very frustrating to see your Twitter name used in this way. Twitter has taken steps to suspend these kinds of accounts quickly, but always, always report them for spam if you see a tweet like this with your name in them.

What can you do?

The best advice is to find real people on Twitter and engage with them (here’s how to do that). If you find information that matters to you, or you find a person (or their mission) mattering to you, retweet away! But retweeting only because you hope for reciprocation is a bad idea. First, you may just be retweeting a fake or semi-fake account. Second, if you’re not retweeting something that matters to you, you’re becoming a fake account yourself!

Twitter is hard

Yes, I realize it’s hard to figure out how to get connected within the Twitter community. The key is to slowly over time build a network of real people to engage to…and to be a real person yourself!

You might want to read “How To Use Twitter to get influential people to help you” for some tips on finding and engaging with real people. Or, if you’re looking for a simpler approach, check out “Win Friends And Influence People On Twitter In Just 5 Seconds A Day.”

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