On August 1st,¬†2011 Gawker reported that an anonymous ex-staffer of the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign claimed that upwards of 80% of Gingrich’s Twitter followers were “inactive or .. dummy accounts created by various ‘follow agencies.’” ¬†Other news outlets quickly picked up the story, but at the time of this writing (August 2, 2011) there has been little in the way of hard evidence to support or contradict this claim.

To shed light on the characteristics of the online networks of support surrounding each presidential candidate we used the Twitter API to produce a random sample of 5,000 followers for the verified Twitter accounts of each campaign. We then examined the profile data for each of these 5,000 users, and computed a variety of statistics describing whether the account has produced any tweets, whether it reports a ‘Location’ entry, a profile biography, the number of friends and followers associated with the account, etc. The color coding of each cell represents a mapping of the values in each row to the blue-red color spectrum, with smaller values corresponding to bluer colors and larger values corresponding to redder colors.

Gingrich Palin Romney Bachmann Huntsman Obama
Zero Tweets 33% 17% 9% 7% 8% 10%
Missing Location Field 67% 44% 33% 28% 29% 42%
Missing Profile Biography 76% 54% 41% 35% 33% 48%
Missing Profile URL 86% 78% 69% 66% 67% 80%
Default Profile Image 52% 30% 17% 16% 14% 18%
Average # of Followers 88.0 141.4 672.8 789.3 900.2 101.5
Average # of Friends 177.9 274.6 439.0 860.7 507.5 206.9
Average # of Tweets 236.1 671.7 1,077.5 1,863.8 1,425.0 612.0
Average Creation Date 8/31/09 3/28/10 1/6/10 12/4/09 1/19/10 8/11/10

This set does not represent the entire 2012 presidential field, and we will add more points of comparison as the data become available.

Our research group at the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing performed these analyses as part of an ongoing research project on the diffusion of information in complex online social networks. For further information about our research, please visit the homepage of the Truthy project, the Truthy website, or our gallery, ‘Visualizing the Political Discourse on Twitter.’

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