For years the two social media superstars of Scottish politics have ribbed each other rotten.


Nicola Sturgeon may have replaced Alex Salmond as First Minister. But her wily mentor still has more followers on Twitter, as he is heard to frequently remind her at party events.

Both the SNP giants, however, have an online secret: much of their following on the microblogging site is fake.

Two out of five people who sign up to get Mr Salmond's tweets are "suspicious or empty", according to the Fake Followers app from Social Bakers, a digital analysis firm.

That figure, the highest in British politics, means 55,000 of the former nationalist leader's 134,000 followers are in doubt.

Ms Sturgeon saw her following triple over 2014 and now has 114,000 - but 34 per cent of them are iffy, reckons Social Bakers.

Some Twitter watchers believe amassing fake followings may, counter-intuitively, be a symptom of success.

That is because fakes, in order to try and look real, follow big celebrities.

Such fake or empty accounts are created for all sorts of reasons - including by firms that try to sell followers in batches. One currently offers 1000 "real-looking" followers for under £5 or 25,000 for £65.

Analysts such as Social Bakers can never be exactly sure about which account is fake or not - but crunch internet data for tell-tale signs like inactivity, or repeatedly tweeting the same stock phrases, or following only big names.

So if a politician doesn't have many fakes - they are probably not a big name. Take former Labour leader Johann Lamont. She only has 11,200 followers, a tenth as many as Ms Sturgeon. But just 5 per cent of them rank as "suspicious or empty".

The suspected fake Twitter followings of other politicians range from 30 per cent for Prime Minister David Cameron, to 23 per cent for Ed Miliband, 11 per cent for Jim Murphy and just 9 per cent for Nick Clegg.

Herald & Times digital innovation manager Grant Gibson said: "Politicians having fake followers doesn't suggest any wrongdoing on their part - scammers who create fake accounts tend to follow real celebrities to make their profiles seem legitimate.

"Nonetheless, fake followers are worthless and in a world where the hearts and minds of voters are increasingly swayed online.

"Having almost half of your following identified as puppets is clearly bad news for any politician.

"On the other hand, if I was Nick Clegg, I'd be asking myself why so few Twitter fakes could be bothered to follow me.

"If Ed Miliband can amass 84,000 fake followers, why are only 18,000 interested in Mr Clegg?"

The SNP has invested more of its effort in to Twitter and Facebook than most parties. Some Scottish politicians are still to barely touch the genre.

Excluded from big UK-wide TV debates for May's general election, the party wants to talk to voters directly.

However, bulk followings only tell part of the story. Social Bakers, for example, reckons that just 47 per cent of Mr Salmond's followers are "good", with 13 per cent ranked as inactive on top of his 40 per cent "suspicious and empty". His real reach, therefore, is probably only half as big as it appears.

An SNP spokesman said: "On both Twitter and Facebook - as well as with our 93,000 strong membership - the SNP is well ahead of all other parties, and we will use digital platforms in the general election campaign to help get across our message."

Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon and other British politicians can take some comfort: they lag way behind other world leaders and celebrities in the fake following league table.

Russian President Vlad Putin, America's Barack Obama and Norway's PM Erna Solberg head that with figures of 76 percent, 74 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

Mr Salmond, in fact, has about the same share of iffy followers as tennis player Andy Murray and comedians Kevin Bridges and Greg Hemphill. Ms Sturgeon's dodgy proportion matches that of Pope Francis I.