Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Gingrich speaks at the 51st Washington Conference with Laffer Associates in Washington
Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks at the 51st Washington Conference with Laffer Associates in Washington May 13, 2011. Former House Speaker Gingrich declared his 2012 candidacy on Wednesday. REUTERS

Newt Gingrich has touted his formidable Twitter presence as a sign of strength despite his ailing presidential campaign, but a former staffer and an analysis by the web firm PeekYou suggest that most of Gingrich's 1.3 million are not real people.

Gingrich boasted recently that his substantial number of followers eclipsed his rivals for the Republican nomination, a surprising feat for a man whose campaign appeared to be collapsing as prominent aides and fundraisers fled en masse. Gawker followed up on the story with a former Gingrich staffer who charged that Gingrich had employed various web agencies to purchase inactive or decoy accounts and build an illusion of a massive online following.

"If you simply scroll through his list of followers you'll see that most of them have odd usernames and no profile photos, which has to do with the fact that they were mass generated," the staffer said.

That prompted a denial fromn Gingrich's camp, with press secretary R.C. Hammond telling ABC News that "we've never utilized firms, agencies, or outside organizations to inflate Newt's Twitter followers."

But PeekYou had, by coincidence, been conducting a project on measuring Twitter audiences that included crunching data on presidential candidates. The Gawker post led researchers to reexamine data they had compiled on Gingrich and find that some 92 percent of his followers' accounts could not be demonstrably connected to humans.

"A huge majority of his followers are either completely anonymous people who have no other web presence, or they are spambots," general manager of business and product development Josh Mackey said. Mackey said that only about 106,000 of Gingrichs' followers had the web credentials, including names and links in their Twitter feeds, that indicate they are "real people have real web identities" rather than automatons.

Gawker could not verify whether Gingrich had actively sought to buy the additional followers.