Buying Twitter followers, the legal and ethical implications

I’m currently running an experiment in which I’m attempting to buy Twitter followers. I’m doing this for two reasons:

  1. to test whether these purported Twitter follower buying services actually work; and
  2. if I am able to successfully buy followers, to test whether these new (read: fake) Twitter followers will impact my real life, in any way.

I received some interesting feedback in the comments of my previous blog post pertaining to this issue. I’d like to elaborate on some of the issues which were highlighted.

Is buying followers a violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service?

Twitter’s Terms of Service govern your access and use of Twitter and its associated services. It’s basically the legal contract between Twitter and you which outlines the rights and responsibilities of all parties to the agreement. So does buying Twitter followers violate these terms?

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Some websites seem to indicate that this practice is against Twitter’s terms, while others advocate that it’s perfectly acceptable. I did some research of my own but couldn’t find anything in the Twitter Terms of Service that specifically talks about this issue.

Twitter does, however, have a set of rules which also form a part of their Terms of Service. The following is an excerpt from The Twitter Rules:

You may not use the Twitter service for the purpose of spamming anyone. What constitutes “spamming” will evolve as we respond to new tricks and tactics by spammers. Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be spamming are: …
• Creating or purchasing accounts in order to gain followers;
• Using or promoting third-party sites that claim to get you more followers (such as follower trains, sites promising “more followers fast,” or any other site that offers to automatically add followers to your account); …

The first point has nothing to do with me since I didn’t “create or purchase” these accounts. However, the second point clearly condemns using services which claim to add followers to your account. I don’t see how this constitutes “spam” if these fake accounts never actually Tweet or contact anyone (unless they post some dummy Tweets which clog up Twitter’s services). Although, I do suppose that they erode the credibility of follower counts, and Twitter certainly can’t be happy about that.

Ethical implications …

So will Twitter suspend my account? I’m not particularly worried. Twitter isn’t worried about a small-fry like me boosting my Twitter followers. They’re likely to be much more worried about U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 100,000 follower jump in one weekend.

Mitt Romney has been heavily criticised in the media for allegedly purchasing Twitter followers. In a presidential campaign this kind of practice is certainly crossing an ethical boundary. But what about me?

Do you think I’ve crossed an ethical line? What if I start getting treated differently because of a new-found fame? What if I get special treatment; or a job offer? Does that change things? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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Let me know your thoughts, just remember to play nicely folks!

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