Last week, Pekka Haavisto's campaign staff noticed a significant increase in Twitter followers, whose profiles included neither a photo nor any previous Twitter posts, raising fears that Haavisto's account may have been targeted by trolls.
The spike in Twitter activity coincided with the first television debate in the campaign, which was last Wednesday on MTV3. On the same evening, the campaign received a number of prank calls and emails. The upward surge in Twitter followers continued for several more days.
Riikka Kämppi, Haavisto's campaign manager, said according to an analysis by information security specialists it seems that most of the new followers are automated accounts, i.e. bots.
Kämppi added that she has contacted both the Finnish Security Intelligence Service Supo and Twitter, because it is unclear whether the faceless followers could harm the campaign.
For example, the campaign could be damaged by accusations that a dubious organisation has paid to boost Haavisto's profile on Twitter, which currently total 115,000 followers, Kämppi said.
In comparison, the sitting president Sauli Niinistö who is looking for re-election has 119,000 followers.
Game-obsessed children could be to blame
However, there could be a less malignant explanation to Haavisto's sudden popularity on Twitter.
Social media expert Harto Pönkä points the finger at children and their poor media literacy skills. After the server for Growtopia, a popular mobile game among primary school children, crashed last week the gaming company asked the players to watch Growtopia's Twitter account to see when the server would be up and running again.
According to Pönkä, scores of children misunderstood and signed up for Twitter to follow Growtopia. At the same time, many of them decided to follow Haavisto, Niinistö and other famous people and news organisations.
Kämppi of the Green Party however said only some of the thousands of new Haavisto fans also follow Growtopia.
No peak in Niinistö's followers
Meanwhile, Niinistö's campaign headquarters failed to notice any peak in the number of his Twitter fans last week. During the past month, Niinistö's account has gained about 1,000 new followers each week.
Twitter suggests to new members that they follow the most popular accounts, which results in these accounts gaining more followers, perpetuating the virtuous cycle.