Pakistani politicians lose fake followers amid Twitter crackdown

  • Imran, Maryam and Bilawal among top public figures to witness a significant drop in their numbers


LAHORE: Ever since Twitter announced to remove ‘locked accounts’ from follower counts across profiles globally, public figures in Pakistan have started losing their numbers.

A number of Pakistani politicians, including Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, convicted ex-premier Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif and others, have lost a fair amount of fake followers that happened to be locked accounts – social media profiles that are banned by Twitter after observing a sudden change in behaviour, like tweeting a large volume of unsolicited replies or mentions tweeting misleading links, or if a large number of accounts block the account after mentioning them.

Locked accounts, not to be confused with spam or bots, cannot Tweet, like or Retweet and they are not served ads whereas spam accounts (sometimes referred to as bots) typically exhibit spammy behaviour from the beginning and are increasingly predictable by the systems, and likely to be automatically shut down.

Although the exact numbers have not been ascertained, a significant drop in the percentage of followers before and after the crackdown was observed.

Shaheryar Popalzai, a journalist who documented the drop in follower counts of Pakistani politicians during the last two days, observed that Imran Khan lost a big chunk of around 75,634 followers, close to 0.93% of the total. PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari were deprived of 29,274 and 16,557 followers, respectively.

According to some inputs, Information Technology University (ITU) Vice Chancellor and former Punjab cabinet member Dr Umar Saif lost over 75pc, by far the highest dip, in followers where his numbers went down from 370,2K to 81.7K.

Jehangir Khan Tareen (43,249), Ahsan Iqbal (6,657), Shah Mehmood Qureshi (6,539), Fawad Chaudhry (6,177), Khawaja Asif (5,991), Abid Sher Ali (5,419) and Murad Saeed (4,400) were some of the politicians and their followers last mentioned in Popalzai’s list.


Digital rights activist Usama Khilji welcomed the move and called it a positive development. “Fake followers and bots are being hashed out of Twitter so that activity on the platform can be more representative of reality rather than an artificially created support,” the Bolo Bhi director argued.

When asked whether these followers were actually purchased by these public figures, he responded that although it wasn’t certain, it was likely that the social media might have done so. “None of them has confirmed doing such a thing,” he added.


Politicians, leaders, and famous celebrities around the world have also faced the clamp down on fake followers. US President Donald Trump lost 300,000 followers while his predecessor Barack Obama went down by 2.3 million. Indian PM Narendra Modi lost nearly 300,000 followers and President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, topped the list with a subtraction of 33.46% of his total followers.

US singer Katy Perry, the most-followed user on Twitter, and Lady Gaga lost about 2.5 million fans. The numbers of Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears and Coldplay were too reduced by approximately 3-6%.

Ironically, Twitter’s own account was deprived of 12.33pc (7,748,704) followers.

This is a step to improve the user-experience and “ensure that everyone can have confidence in their followers”, according to the micro-blogging site. It aims at renewing the scrutiny of fake news and individual users on social media.


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