Don't trust figures about celebrity Twitter followers, according to reports.
Twitter's "most followed" list is topped by Justin Bieber (38.5 million), Lady Gaga (36.8 million), Katy Perry (36 million), Barack Obama (31 million) and Rihanna (29.4 million).
Even 34 percent of the New York Times's followers are fake, as well as 23 percent for Pope Francis (Pontifex), StatusPeople's tool suggests.
Apparently fake following is a huge and growing industry, with a couple of dozen online enterprises in the business.
"Fake followers are typically sold in batches of one thousand to one million accounts," according to the Times' Bits blog. "The average price for 1,000 fake followers is $18, according to one study by Barracuda Labs."
Unclear is who's to blame.
Nobody's putting forth hard evidence of culpability, even as researchers cite mysterious almost-overnight increases in followers, citing big brand names, politicians and a couple of prominent rappers.
Then again, other Twitter account holders, like a Popular Mechanics assistant editor, have found that half of their followers seem to be fake as well.
Apparently, following can also be a kind of spam or search-engine optimization scheme, with links being forwarded to the person being followed and automatic retweets posted to a person's list of followers. Following also makes a fake account appear more legit.
So it's also possible these fakery calculators can't be fully trusted either.
They take a small sample and assume fakery is likely if an account doesn't update its image, partly ever posts original tweets, and does a lot of following without being followed.
But is that necessarily phony?
"Some people use Twitter solely for news, following hundreds or thousands of accounts but rarely if ever tweeting themselves. But such an account is exactly what many spam accounts look like," an analyst pointed out to Popular Mechanics.
Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or firstname.lastname@example.org.