24 Jun

I was recently notified of a new Twitter follower who in turn is followed by an interesting and unlikely institution: London’s Whitechapel Gallery.


The Whitechapel is into “serial entrepreneurs” and “fitness junkies”, apparently. “Whitechapel Art Gallery”=WAG. Coincidence? You decide.

Despite his profile and picture making him look like a spambot, from some cursory research this gentleman appears to be an entity vaguely resembling a real human being. He follows 653,041 accounts on Twitter. If he spent five seconds reading one tweet by each of these people it would take him 3,265,205 seconds, about 907 hours 0r roughly 38 days to do so. Again we’ll call these followers people for the sake of convenience even though we all know that with this number of them there’s certain to be thousands if not tens of thousands of senseless bots among them.

It’s not unusual or untoward for an institution or business to have a lot of followers: Whitechapel Gallery has about 64,000 of them. This is about what I would expect. What’s interesting is that their account follows around 11,800 people. I’ll leave you to do the maths on that one, but it suffices to say that nobody at the gallery is reading the tweets of 11,800 individuals unless the gallery is just a cover for the security services. Instead they would seem to be gaming social networks to inflate their (nominal, not actual) audience reach in the same way as the fellow above. Any interactions of his I could bear to look at on Twitter are probably over 90% merely banal, uninformative responses to boring updates from randoms about TV shows or various products, which I think comes from a “social media expert” [sic] thing where they tell you to respond to everybody, all the time, about anything. Apparently it doesn’t matter what you say.

This is horrible advice, by the way, because it completely ruins one of the best things about social networks, i.e. that you can build and maintain small but meaningful and personal connections with people who may or may not include individuals known to you in real life. If all you’re doing on those social networks is cynically trying to manipulate people into doing what you want them to do– in this case, to make you look more popular than you really are– then that’s actually anti-social and you’re just a vampire. Not to mention sad and pathetic.

I don’t think the Whitechapel is using that tactic but they do seem to be trying another trick, which is following hundreds or thousands of unknown randoms just to get followed back and up their numbers. Presumably that was the aim of our muscular friend in following me. Certain sketchy companies provide this service for a fee; those “2000 followers in two weeks” (or whatever) ads you sometimes encounter or get as email spam. This exploit is designed to artificially inflate follower counts because the less discerning or capable users (which is most of them) just automatically follow back anybody who follows them. Sometimes they don’t even know that their account settings allow them to disable automatic follow back. Taking part in this auto follow back trick is also a really bad idea, not to mention stupid and unethical. Do you just want a big number or do you want to promote your business or institution to people who really care about it?

As for the potential reasoning behind a public art gallery doing such a thing, I think it’s somewhat like a high tech version of the invigilators at publicly funded galleries who need to make a high-footfall case to their paymasters “accidentally”-with-huge-air-quotes clicking the visitor counter three or four times for every one actual visitor, something that I’ve seen done in several places both as a visitor and as a worker behind the scenes.

I didn’t follow him back. There’s the serial entrepreneur thing, for a start. It’s not just the word “serial” that self-described serial entrepreneurs share with serial killers.


  1. Alistair 01/07/2013 at 5:22 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

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