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Indiana Researchers Profile Followers of @NewtGingrich and Other Presidential Tweeps

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, August 3 2011

Ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's followers look more like fake or inactive accounts than those of some other presidential candidates, according to an analysis produced Tuesday by researchers at Indiana University's Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research.

The analysis came one day after Gawker reported, based on the comments of an unnamed former Gingrich staffer, that most of Gingrich's lauded 1.3 million-strong following is either inactive or is following him because his staff paid for them at some point. That led to the counter-argument that Gingrich's appearance on the Twitter suggested users' list in 2009 was a more likely reason for his follower count; but data-mining company PeekYou released statistics, based on their own algorithms for parsing Twitter followings, that indicate Gingrich has a largely non-human or inactive group of followers. The Gingrich campaign has denied paying for followers, and PeekYou's president made the point to Politico's Ben Smith that Gingrich's inactive followers are just as likely a function of his being on Twitter's suggested users list — where anyone on Twitter might have looked first for someone to follow &mdsah; as they are a result of any paid following.

We already knew follower counts are useless statistics. We're still not sure which statistics are worthwhile, and a little more insight into that question just might be the only useful thing to come out of this entire conversation. PeekYou hasn't shared any insight into their algorithm — but the Indiana University researchers have, and the results there are more interesting than any he-said/she-said about what Gingrich has or has not done during his career on social media.

Researchers at Indiana University took a random sample of 5,000 followers each from Gingrich, Sarah Palin, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Utah governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, and President Barack Obama. They evaluated each for data points that indicate whether or not a Twitter user is a real person — number of tweets, missing location field, whether the profile has a biography, image or URL, number of followers, number of friends and number of tweets.

Gingrich's followers have, on average, been on Twitter longer than those of other candidates — in keeping with the theory that Gingrich's 2009 appearance on Twitter's suggested user list accounts for his 1.3 million-strong following. They're also far more likely to have never tweeted or have an empty profile, according to the research.

By the Indiana University measures, Michele Bachmann's followers have a relatively high number of followers of their own, are followed back often, and tweet more, on average, than those of the other candidates they sampled.

Obama's followers were more likely to have never tweeted or to have a missing profile biography than any of the other five candidates save Gingrich and Palin.

Check out the whole study here.

(With Becky Kazansky)