It turns out a substantial chunk of President Donald Trump’s followers on Twitter hail from shadowy, anonymous sources.
A just-published investigation of @RealDonaldTrump’s more than 27 million Twitter followers by Bloomberg Businessweek found that about 28 percent are “eggs.” Literally, that means, for one reason or another, about 7.5 million followers have opted to stick with the default profile illustration, rather than adding their own photo. (Until earlier this month, Twitter’s default illustration was an egg, hence the name.)
But in practice, the most suspect account on Twitter is the egg. All too many of these accounts are launched by people who don’t want to be identified or even associated with what they’re saying. “Eggs” are the internet equivalent of someone who doesn’t stand by their work. Twitter dropped the icon because it had become synonymous with trolls and bullying.
Bloomberg also found that Trump’s most vociferous supporter ― in terms of tweeting at the president ― is probably a bot (although not technically an egg):
Trump’s most prolific respondent, @Trump2016_Fan, has posted more than 18,000 times in the past year, mostly all-caps messages of support for the 45th president. The account appears to be automated and did not respond to a request for an interview.
Alexander Taub, co-founder of Social Rank, which provided the data to Bloomberg, said none of this should be surprising. Popular Twitter accounts like Trump’s tend to attract fake and otherwise dubious followers. And bots are, as Bloomberg noted, “a rampant part of life on Twitter.”
But for Trump, a man obsessed with crowd size and popularity metrics of all kinds, it does matter ― and for more than just the optics. There’s power in numbers, and the extra millions of supportive eggs and bots can boost his message, even when we don’t know who’s behind them.
Sure, people would pay attention to the president’s tweets no matter how many followers he had. But unlike real followers who may dissent from time to time, Twitter eggs (at least many of them) will happily parrot whatever those tweets may be.
And Trump’s amplified messages have real-world implications.
So real that after his election, Mexican peso traders half-joked that it would be cheaper to buy Twitter outright and shut it down than to continue burning through foreign currency reserves to defend the peso from Trump’s tweets.
The White House seems to understand very well the impact of anonymous voices on the internet. Earlier this week, a Twitter lawsuit revealed that the Trump administration was attempting to force the company to identify the person behind an anonymous account critical of the president.
The Trump administration dropped the effort after it went public.