Nick Chong · 8 mins ago · 2 min read
TRON’s Justin Sun is likely benefiting from bought Twitter followers. Analysis of different metrics around his account indicate that over half of his 1.7 million followers could be fake.
People have been using bots to game Twitter since the platform’s inception. Social proof is a key component of high engagement. Vanity metrics like follower counts, likes and retweets, and comments are important for generating engagement—even if these numbers are manufactured.
Justin Sun, the founder of TRON and CEO of BitTorrent, appears to be well aware of this dynamic. He is constantly trying to one-up Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin on the platform and even bragged when he was the first one to hit 1 million followers in the crypto-sphere.
However, there’s a good possibility that Justin Sun’s popularity is part of a facade.
Manipulated vanity metrics?
Analysis of Justin Sun’s Twitter metrics shows some pretty suspicious activity. Over the last 30 days his followers have been increasing in a tight band regardless of activity, ranging from 4,400 to 7,400 new followers a day, averaging 5,050 daily.
Meanwhile, Vitalik Buterin, one of the most influential people in the industry, gained at most 200 followers in a day over the same time span, even with 20 percent more daily tweets. On average, Buterin gained 70 new followers per day over the last 30 days.
A look at aggregate data raises further questions. Justin Sun gained 1.7 million followers with 1,700 likes and 5,200 tweets on an account created August 2017. Vitalik Buterin gained 880,000 followers with 5,400 likes and 12,000 tweets with an account created May 2011.
Either Vitalik Buterin is really, really bad at marketing himself (which is somewhat true) or something more dubious is happening with Justin Sun’s vanity metrics. This comparison doesn’t prove anything by itself, but there is even more incriminating data backing the idea that Sun’s vanity metrics are manipulated.
Indicators of purchased followers
Prior to October 2018 Justin Sun had seemingly normal follower activity. Some days he lost 100 followers, others he gained as many as 500—normal variance for an undoctored account.
Suddenly, on Oct. 11, 2018, Sun gained 5,700 followers overnight without any clear cause. Beginning Oct. 18 he started racking up followers in the thousands each day during the trough of the bear market.
In May 2018 the variance is even more alarming. On May 8, he lost 31,000 followers and then gained 29,000 the next day. In three instances in June Justin Sun gained over 10,000 followers in a single day, capturing as many as 18,800 followers in 24 hours.
Suddenly, on June 28, 2018, Sun lost 88,000 followers as part of a bot sweep by Twitter. Other major cryptocurrency influencers were unimpacted.
The irregular and sudden activity suggests that Justin Sun could be purchasing thousands of followers every day. If 3,000 followers were purchased each day beginning Oct. 18, then 970,000—the majority of Justin Sun’s 1.7 million followers—would be fake.
Using bots to gain followers and generate engagement is a trivial task. There are dozens of services that sell followers, likes, and retweets by the thousands. In Sun’s case, 5,000 followers could go for as little as $100. One service even offers a “lifetime replacement guarantee” should these purchased followers get identified and banned by Twitter.
That said, purchasing followers and engagement is explicitly prohibited by Twitter’s Platform manipulation and spam policy. Accounts which engage in this kind of behavior run the risk of getting banned.
Nevertheless, it’s unclear whether Justin Sun is the one behind purchasing these followers. It is possible that a TRON super fan, or even a hedge fund, could be responsible for gaming the metrics. But, as Justin Sun said himself, he’s renowned for his “vulgar hype and marketing behavior.” Manipulating Twitter metrics seems in-line with his other gimmicks.
If it’s discovered that Justin Sun is the one behind the manipulation then it would just be another incident where the TRON founder prioritizes hype over substance.