[UPDATE  1 of 3] At a press conference in City Hall this morning John Connolly stated that he does not want the new money from Stand for Children. Connolly also mentioned that he cannot necessarily stop them for spending on his behalf but will send them a letter today.

[UPDATE 2 of 3] We can now link Connolly’s Twitter account to a specific third party service that sells 2,000 Twitter followers at time. Scroll to the bottom for more.

[UPDATE 3 of 3] Stand for Children will respect Connolly’s request to not advertise on his behalf.

As Boston’s Mayoral race is heating up with the primary just over a month away, candidates are looking for any edge they can get over the crowded field of those hoping to replace Mayor Menino.  One candidate, City Councilor John Connolly, appears to be battling not just for votes in our beloved city, but also for the title of most-followed mayoral candidate on Twitter – even if it means buying spam followers.

After being tipped off to take a closer look at Connolly’s Twitter presence, a few things stood out.

First, at some point between the early morning and the late evening of August 20th, the councilor’s Twitter handle saw a decline of approximately 1,800 followers.  It is safe to assume this drop was due to Twitter cracking down on spam accounts. And although it isn’t unreasonable for someone to lose a few spam followers here or there, over one thousand in one fell swoop is quite significant (see image below).

The second thing that caught our eye was the amount of new Twitter accounts following the councilor. As of midnight on August 21st, we noticed that Connolly was seeing about 20 new followers per minute. And as of 8am on August 21st his follower count is back around 8,400. After diving in to examine the legitimacy of these accounts, we found some interesting themes.

It appears most of these new follower accounts are a part of a connected spam strategy, as they consistently have 82 followers, have no bios, are mostly fictional or anime characters, and have each tweeted only once with the tweet ending in “RydeMyPony.” They are definitely not from Boston and aside from bolstering overall follower count, provide no value.

Just a snapshot of some of Connolly’s recent followers all tweeting ‘rydemypony.’

Such a quick, massive spike in spam Twitter followers can almost always be attributed to paid acquisition of such followers through shady third party spam sites.

RydeMyPony, a common theme tweeted by most of the spam followers, appears to be a hoax startup created by a German entrepreneur that is focused on “P2P pony sharing.”  We have reached out to the creator of RydeMyPony to determine whether they are behind the spam Twitter accounts following Connolly’s handle and have not heard back.  To learn more about RydeMyPony, which admittedly is somewhat of an amusing hoax, watch the YouTube video embedded at the bottom of this post.

This news comes at an interesting time as Connolly just announced that he would be receiving $500,000 from an Oregon-based education advocacy group, Stand for Children. One adviser has been quoted saying that Stand for Children would be planning a “full-frontal assault” on Connolly’s behalf, which has us wondering if such an “assault” would include buying fake Twitter followers for their candidate to create an aura of popularity.  It seems unlikely that Connolly himself, a candidate that is a serious contender, would be spending his time worrying about his Twitter following, and that buying followers that are interested in ‘RydeMyPony’ would not be on that agenda.

Adam Webster, Connolly’s Political Director and Deputy Campaign Manager, told us this morning that he has noticed a drop of around 2,000 followers and the subsequent spike in new followers, but was unable to confirm why. Webster denied that Connolly’s campaign is buying the followers and has directed us to comb through their campaign finances (which we are currently doing).

When asked what the new money from Stand for Children was going to be used for, his response was that he wasn’t sure. These organizations do not directly send money to the campaign accounts, they simply make expenditures on their behalf.

While Connolly’s campaign has denied that they are buying followers themselves it is possible that such expenditures could be made through a group like Stand for Children, which we would not be able to trace.  The recent drop in Twitter followers and massive spike in spam Twitter followers is textbook behavior of an account that is buying followers.

Social media can be an important driver of elections, as illustrated by Obama’s 2008 presidential run, however if not handled with care, social media can also do serious damage to a candidates brand (just ask Anthony Weiner).

[UPDATE 2 cont.]

RydeMyPony creator, Christoph Sollich, admitted to buying Twitter followers on a site called fiverr. You can click here to see exactly where he bought them. The site charges $5 for 2,ooo new Twitter followers.

After taking a closer look at RydeMyPony’s new followers and John Connolly’s new followers we noticed that they are the same exact accounts. Sollich also admitted that he saw a 2,000 follower drop recently and then an immediate 2,000 new follower jump – the same behavior that Connolly’s account saw.

Same new followers on RydeMyPony (left) and Connolly (right)

From this we can link Connolly’s account to RydeMyPony’s account and conclude that the two accounts benefited from buying Twitter followers from the same service.

Here’s the RydeMyPony video we discussed above.