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Lifting the Hood Off Fake Tweets and Promises of Viral Fame

Saturday, 27 Apr 2013 | 12:07 PM ET
Damien Meyer | AFP | Getty Images

While Twitter may not sell interactions, there's a thriving black market around the sale of Twitter followers, retweets and favorites.

Recently, the multi-million dollar underground economy surrounding fake Twitter followers was the subject of a New York Times story. Two Italian security researchers found more than 20 services focused on creating fake engagement in exchange for cash. The names of these services are indicative of what they offer: FanMeNow, LikedSocial, Viral Media Boost, to name a few.

Fiverr.com, for example, is an online marketplace where people share things they're willing to do for $5—everything from writing code to juicing up your social-media presence, which increasingly is becoming a barometer of your digital footprint and influence. Shelling out a few dollars on Fiverr (pronounced five-er, as in five dollars) and other emerging services means anyone's Twitter account temporarily look like Justin Bieber's.

Want one of the most retweeted tweets in history? It can be yours for only $150.

How so?

I recently scanned popular social media accounts of celebrities such as Bieber, Lady GaGa and the One Direction band. My research showed there were at least nine tweets with more than 200,000 retweets. (Twitter has never released an official list of most retweeted tweets. A company spokesman tells CNBC that even Twitter hasn't compiled its most popular tweets since "the list would be so heavily skewed to very recent tweets, given the growth of userbase.")

(Read More: The Top 10 Companies on Twitter)

With that in mind, I added up the largest 'Retweet' offers on Fiverr's site. In other words, I focused on Fiverr users offering the most retweets for the least amount of money. Using that criteria, nine offers—with task prices ranging from $5 to $45—would result in 205,330 retweets on a single tweet. Total cost: $150.

That means your tweet can be alongside those of President Barack Obama and One Direction's Harry Styles on the "Top 10 Most Retweeted Tweets" list for less than a couple hundred bucks.

How does Twitter feel about it?

Well, a source tells CNBC.com the social networking giant isn't pleased. For starters, it's currently impossible to send a tweet that contains a link to Fiverr's site. When attempting to do so, Twitter will alert you that the Fiverr "URL in your Tweet appears to link to a page that has spammy or unsafe content." While Google doesn't deem Fiverr's site suspicious or in possession of malicious software, Twitter does. It has banned the site's link since July 2012 since "promoting third-party sites that claim to get you more followers" is against The Twitter Rules. Others banned links include Twitlottery.com and BestFollowers.org.

"Spam is a problem that faces the entire web," a Twitter spokesman tells CNBC.com. "We have a variety of manual and automated methods for dealing with spam, and have even sued many of the most prominent spam organizations to keep them off our service."

(Read More: 8 Tweets That Moved Markets)

In fact, a quick perusal around the Internet will reveal no shortage of self-claimed "web marketers" and "Twitter consultants" claiming to advertise your message via social media. Digging deeper, you'll find that many back up their results with engagement provided by spam bots and not humans.

But social media gurus, beware, Twitter said, "it is committed to fighting spam on all fronts," so chances are your social media fame will be short lived. Once Twitter cuts the cord on a fake account, all its actions, including retweets and followings, die along with it. That means your trip to the list of most-shared tweets will be just a memory, and your wallet, $150 lighter.

— Written by CNBC's Eli Langer. Follow him on Twitter at @EliLanger.

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