by Carmel DeAmicis
AÂ Twitter advertising techniqueÂ isÂ perturbing people. Promoted brands like MasterCard and IFC are appearing in the list of accounts some usersÂ follow, even if theyÂ donâ€™t actually follow them.Â
Sources familiar with the companyâ€™s advertising strategy tell me this has been occurring since early 2013, but the public has only just now cottoned onto it thanks to actor William Shatner (of Star Trek fame). Shatner brought attention to it after he saw that â€œMasterCardâ€ appeared in his following list despite the fact that he didnâ€™t follow it. He did a little investigation and discovered that the same promoted account appeared on Dwayne Johnsonâ€™s follower list, looking a little out of place given â€œThe Rockâ€Â only followed one other account.
Twitter has long been a proponent of native advertising, making its money off promotions that look likeÂ a regular part of the Twitter landscape (instead of, say, a banner ad). People are accustomed to promoted accounts appearing in their regular feed and promoted hashtags in the trending topics section.Â But sticking brands in the list of who a user actually follows is aÂ departure from the above examples.By making it look like someone follows an account that they donâ€™t, it sends a false signal that said user cares about that brand. Although the brands are marked as â€œpromoted,â€ itâ€™s not necessarily clear that the user in question doesnâ€™t actually follow the brand.Thereâ€™s ethical considerations to be had. Hypothetical examples: What if youâ€™re vegan and donâ€™t want people to think youâ€™reÂ following Burger King? Or youâ€™re the CEO of Visa and donâ€™t want people thinking youâ€™re following MasterCard? Or youâ€™re a pro-life activist and donâ€™t want people thinking youâ€™re following Planned Parenthood?
Once again, it appears Twitterâ€™s product managers Â fundamentally donâ€™t understand the way people use its application.