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I have a somewhat uncommon last name -- Slotkin. Not too long ago I got curious and searched for other Slotkins on Twitter. My handle is @JasonSlotkin. And to my surprise, I found someone with the handle @JasonSlotkin6. I showed my discovery to Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

"Describes himself as a writer, journalist, and recovering hipster at Marketplace/APM."

That's weird, that's the bio I wrote for my Twitter account  -- even the recovering hipster part. Turns out @JasonSlotkin6 is a clone knockoff of my account that has my bio but a different photo. And it tweets things I would never even say.

Paul Judge says my clone is the product of a growing Web industry that creates fake Twitter identities and sells them to people looking to pad their list of followers.

"They steal these identities by the thousands, so they have these armies of fake accounts," Judge says.
 
Judge, who oversees research and is a vice president for Barracuda Networks, says batches of these fake Twitter accounts start at $5 and go up from there. The more expensive ones promise they won't get noticed and taken down by Twitter.

"Because Twitter was catching those, the attackers started working harder and harder to make those accounts look more like real people and now they're just cloning real people," he says.

Building a clone army must be resource intensive. (Remember, there was an entire planet dedicated to it in that overwrought "Star Wars" prequel.) But a Twitter clone army is easy to build, says Max Nanis.

Nanis, who belongs to Pacific Social, a group that conducts experiments with intricately-coded Twitter bots, says my clone is probably a rudimentary program that even novice programmers could create with few resources.

"You could literally have thousands of these Twitter accounts run off someone's laptop," Nanis says. He says the program is probably designed to tweet content pilfered from other users.

"You can be relatively non sequitur and post random stuff on Twitter and still pass as a human," Nanis notes.

But at least I have more followers than @JasonSlotkin6.


Take the Bot or Not test:

A fun way to test whether an account is a bot or a real person? The Bot or Not site, where you can plug in any Twitter account for an analysis. Take the test here.

About the author

Jason Slotkin is a reporter in Washington, D.C.

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