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On Twitter, Oregon’s Top Officials Are Swarmed by Bots

Oregon’s governor and both U.S. senators, all Democrats, have huge followings. Most of those friends are imaginary.

The biggest names in Oregon politics are feeding off of fake Twitter followers.

It's no secret that the social media platform is rife with fraudulent accounts—bots. These automated accounts provide the illusion of clout for online celebrities, all the way up to President Donald Trump. A black market has grown around purchasing that influence: Last month, The New York Times reported it was able to purchase 25,000 followers for $225.

It's not easy to determine who's buying fake followers. But it's simple enough to see who has them.

A New York-based app called Twitter Audit runs a scan of the accounts following any Twitter handle. It calculates whether the first 5,000 accounts it scans are managed by live humans, then takes an educated guess at the full ratio of real followers to bots. "Of course, this scoring method is not perfect," the app's creators admit, "but it is a good way to tell if someone with lots of followers is likely to have increased their follower count by inorganic, fraudulent or dishonest means."

WW used Twitter Audit on seven of the biggest names in Oregon politics. It didn't take long to spot a trend: Oregon's governor and both U.S. senators, all Democrats, have huge followings—made mostly of bots. The state's top Republicans have far smaller audiences, but they're more real.

Here are the results, and the officials' explanations.

Gov. Kate Brown

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley

House Speaker Tina Kotek

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden