A well-travelled friend once told me that Saskatoon and northern Saskatchewan were the greatest places on Earth to be in the summer and the world’s worst places to live in the winter.
How much I agree with him depends on the wind chill.
Winters here are long and dreary, and they last from October until May some years. Not only does the snow linger, for many of us, the winter mindset dominates our thinking on all sorts of policies and decisions even during the heat of summer.
We argue about new ideas for the city all of the time. “We can’t have bike lanes because it snows half the year.” “The winter is too long to waste money on a pedestrian bridge.” “Money on parks is wasted because they never get used in the winter.”
There is much we don’t do because of this white stuff – even when we are complaining about the heat in the summer.
Other cities aren’t held captive to winter in the same way.
Many Nordic cities with far worse winters than ours have excellent bike infrastructure and keep the trails cleared year-round.
Edmonton struck a committee last year to help manage winters better.
I am not sure if I agree with the approach that Winnipeg and Calgary have taken with elevated walkways, but I was able to walk all over Winnipeg in -40 C temperatures with only a light jacket.
A report prepared for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region mentioned that nine of the 10 happiest American states are ones that feature cold winters, and listed examples of cities that do winter really well.
In Germany, Austria, and France, people look forward to outdoor holiday markets where they can find a festive atmosphere along with holiday decorations, seasonal gifts, and warm food and drink.
New York City has imported the idea and has set up massive outdoor markets across Manhattan. Before you scoff at the idea, look at the large crowds that come out in any weather to Wintershines. People will come if you give them reason to do so.
December is easy, but we have to make February tolerable. Winnipeg is doing an excellent job. The city pays a lot more for winter snow and not only can you drive around, the sidewalks are cleared. Imagine being able to drive and get around on foot. It can happen.
Winnipeg has also installed heated bus shelters at a growing number of stops. Even in -40 C with a brutal wind, I was able to take off my tuque, gloves, and unzip my jacket while waiting for a bus.
The city has slowly added winter warming shacks as attractions along its rivers. It started as a local idea, and now gets international attention from architects and designers. Those shacks get you out of the wind and give you an excuse to brave the elements.
No matter the weather, thousands of people are having fun all winter long.
Adding a few warming huts each year would make a cold and windy Saskatoon riverfront a lot more tolerable. It would also help connect the different business districts which are spread out because of our river.
Holiday seasonal markets would also be perfect in the Saskatoon Farmers Market. Who knows? It could even one day expand into something other than a weekend destination.
The first step is not warming huts or outdoor markets, however – it is to convince council to get serious about residential snow removal. And our business improvement districts must get serious about keeping sidewalks clear.
Then it relies on everyone figuring out ways to make winters more enjoyable.
Maybe it’s a restaurant opening its deck on milder days, or community associations holding outdoor parties in the winter, like they do in the summer.
It requires the city looking at ways of making our parks winter-friendly, perhaps with more fire pits, or ensuring bike lanes are cleared all season long.
It’s bus shelters that actually do keep us warm. Once we figure out how to shed the shackles of a cold winter and enjoy it, we will find out that even our summer months can get better.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
With slim chance of landing NHL team, Markham arena project somewhere between risky and outright insane
Which brings us to the city of Markham, which hopes to stake a claim. The city has been wrestling for some time with a proposal to build a $325-million arena that would hopefully house an NHL team. Mayor Frank Scarpitti revealed a modified version of the funding structure on Friday with a murky new $70-million extracted from unnamed developers. The plan is still full of holes, with at least $50-million not covered, and council is expected to vote on a previous version of the funding structure Monday or Tuesday. And between now and then, someone should tell them that they are risking an enormous amount of money for a project that is somewhere between risky and outright insane.
“We have never been encouraging of this project,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, reached by phone on Saturday. “And we have repeatedly said that if this building is built, it should be built with the expectation that they will not get a team.”
Bettman was otherwise loathe to comment on the project, or any other one. Yes, he has always repeated a version of that line to those who hope to join the list, because the NHL does not want cities to bankrupt themselves in the faint hope that they might jump to the front of a queue. Yes, Bettman is widely disbelieved when he says, for instance, that Quebec is not necessarily getting the Nordiques back anytime soon.
But in this case, right now Markham is chasing something that isn’t there. One NHL source with knowledge of the league’s thinking called the Markham project “delusional,” and pointed to Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, already outdated, as an example. The source added that Markham is not a priority for the league, and that building an arena will not make it one. The NHL loves to insist there isn’t a list, but if there is, Markham isn’t on it.
What’s even more delusional are those that say that Saskatoon is going to get a NHL team.
I have linked to the Winnipeg centric photography of Bryan Scott before. I have said for years that him and Sam Javanrouh are two of my favourite street photographers in the world. Scott has a new book out called Stuck in the Middle and it is about what makes Winnipeg, well Winnipeg.
For the sake of an exercise, pretend you’re a god. You can go anywhere you want, by any mode of transportation you desire. What you’re most likely to desire is to travel as far away as possible from the coastlines of the continents, where the vast majority of humanity resides. This is a logical desire, as all gods consider homo sapiens a nuisance, if not a pest species.
In geographic terms, they call such a place a pole of inaccessibility — the farthest location you can travel from any coast. In Eurasia, discriminating deities will wind up in the Gurbantºnggºt Desert, an arid patch of western China’s Xinjiang province, a few kilometres from the Kazakh border. In South America, misanthropic multi-dimensional beings may escape to the savannahs of the Mato Grosso plateau to enjoy the quiet company of Brazilian cattle. In Africa, the ultimate escape will place you among the pigeons and parrots of the Bengangai Game Reserve, near the tri-border confluence of South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In North America, however, the farthest place from anywhere is already occupied — by Winnipeg, home to more than 700,000 people and zero gods. More than any other city on the continent, Winnipeg is stuck in the middle.
Head east from Winnipeg in a car, and it’s a 2,700-kilometre drive to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean in the general vicinity of Rivière-du-Loup. This coastal Quebec town is the birthplace of Alexandre-Antonin Taché, the first Archbishop of St. Boniface, a Cassandra figure who tried and failed to prevent the 1870 Métis unrest that established Manitoba and paved the way for Winnipeg to be a provincial capital.
Drive west from Winnipeg, and it’s 2,300 kilometres to the Pacific coast city of Vancouver, a railway terminus whose early growth originally mirrored that of the Manitoba capital, once Canada’s biggest railway hub. But after the 1914 completion of the Panama Canal, the Port of Vancouver became a more profitable shipping route, and Gastown assumed Winnipeg’s role as Western Canada’s most important city.
Drive south from Winnipeg, and it is 2,750 kilometres to Corpus Christi, a Texas city on the Gulf of Mexico. Visit the suburb of Flour Bluff, and you may find yourself at the corner of Winnipeg Drive and Manitoba Drive, where a series of nondescript bungalows pays homage to hopelessly bored Prairie-dwellers who actually did get in their cars and drive until they could not go any farther.
You cannot travel by car directly from Winnipeg to the Arctic Ocean. But it’s only a 1,700-kilometre train ride to Churchill, Manitoba’s seaport on Hudson Bay. The Scottish settlers who helped found the Red River Settlement that would eventually spawn Winnipeg had to travel through the vast emptiness of Hudson Bay, whose shores are patrolled by polar bears. Open up a Lonely Planet guide to Canada, and you will find as many pages devoted to Churchill as there are to Winnipeg. In the eyes of international tourists, the permafrozen tundra is more attractive than a city that simply has the reputation of being among the coldest in the world.
If you insist on technicality, the North American pole of inaccessibility actually is embedded in the South Dakota badlands. But Winnipeg has more than just geographic reasons to claim the continent’s extreme centre.
As a city of 700,000, Winnipeg is too small to be cosmopolitan but too large to be folksy. Big-city complaints about violent crime compete with small-town gripes about the absence of privacy and if you’re single, a terribly shallow gene pool. Major amenities such as NHL hockey are balanced off by a minor-league transportation network saddled with only a rudimentary rump of a rapid-transit system.
Far from the moderating influence of the seas, Winnipeg is subject to a highly variable, mid-continental climate, where winters are frigid, summers are steamy and both spring and fall can involve either extreme. The annual mean temperature of 2.6 C belies the 86-degree spread between the city’s hottest and coldest recorded temperatures.
Winnipeg also falls smack in the middle when it comes to economic growth, chugging along at a modest pace during the entire postwar period while almost everywhere else underwent rapid expansions and precipitous declines. Winnipeg’s eggs are divided among many economic baskets — transportation, manufacturing, insurance, food processing — as if the gods designed a living embodiment of a balanced stock portfolio.
But none of this speaks to the real manner in which Winnipeg is stuck in the middle: It is a city that inspires a profound sense of ambivalence among its residents.
This has nothing to do with apathy, as there’s no such thing as a Winnipegger without a strong opinion about the city. They either despise it or adore it, depending on the nanosecond and whether or not the bus came on time, the street happened to get plowed or the Blue Bombers won the previous night. While ambivalence of this sort is present in any city, only in Winnipeg does it serve as the defining character of the populace.
In many ways, Winnipeg is a fascinating place. It was born of an act of violent resistance, a unique occurrence in this country. It was the fastest-growing city in North America for a time. It was the site of one of the largest workers’ revolts in the Western World. It was threatened with destruction by floodwaters twice in half a century. It is the second-smallest city on the continent to boast a major-league professional sports team. It boasts a selection of architectural wonders that ranges from surviving railway-boom warehouses to 20th-century modernist buildings to a handful of hyper-modernist structures.
Yet Winnipeg is also the very vision of homogeneity and inefficiency. It’s a low-density city that can barely afford to maintain its sprawling, aging infrastructure. It is not overly walkable or pedestrian-friendly. It makes artistic decisions based on politics and political decisions that appear to be inspired by Dadaism more than any political philosophy. It has a disturbing tendency to allow property owners to neglect and eventually demolish heritage structures.
Winnipeg tends to infuriate Winnipeggers, who sometimes question why they live in the city. But when they consider the alternative, they dare not dream of living anywhere else. Even Winnipeggers who do depart for Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver never assimilate or fully lose their regional identity. They remain stuck on their birthplace, in the middle of the flat, snowy, bug-ridden, flood-prone and isolated prairie, where everyone seems to know everyone despite the impossibility of the arithmetic involved.
To add another onion layer to this already-tired analogy, Winnipeg is also stuck in the middle of two possible destinies. One involves maturation into a medium-sized city that learns to live within its means by choosing to reinvigorate its inner core, increase the density of its older neighbourhoods and build new residential areas that make financial and environmental sense.
The other is a slide back to mediocrity by conducting postwar development business as usual: the endless construction of new single-family homes, sprawling out into a distance where the roads and sewers and water pipes will never be as good as the day they are laid, because no future government will be able to maintain them.
Winnipeg is a city on the precipice of a momentous decision, one that really amounts to the cumulative result of a series of smaller decisions. For now, it stands between two futures and potentially many more. Pray to whatever deity you like to ensure the right choices get made.
This looks to be an amazing Christmas gift for any urbanist (or Winnipeg resident) on your list.
They designed and built many of the landmark bridges spanning Canadian waters, but when it came to the Champlain Bridge, the father-and-son engineers P.L. and Hugh Pratley lost a big part of the job to a low, exotic bid.
This weekend, roughly 55 years later, work crews are racing to install a “super beam” and save the Champlain Bridge. Hugh Pratley, now 87, shakes his head at the memory of how the “innovative” concrete girder design imported from Europe won over his plan to use traditional steel girders to build much of a 3.4-kilometre crossing over the St. Lawrence River.
“We were ready to go with a similar design to the one my father used 30 years earlier on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, and then this crazy idea came in from France,” said Mr. Pratley. “It cost less, so they took the cheapest bid. And now they’re paying for it.”
The Champlain Bridge, which is among Canada’s busiest and is located in one of the country’s key trade corridors, was scheduled to be closed completely early Saturday morning so workers could install a 75-tonne steel girder to shore up a failing concrete beam. The federal bridge authority in Montreal plans to reopen the bridge with the brace until more permanent repairs can take place.
However, the only long-term solution is a new bridge that is expected to cost at least $3-billion.
Montreal is riddled with crumbling infrastructure, but the Champlain is emblematic of problems that have haunted the city for decades: Shoddy construction, neglected upkeep and jurisdictional squabble have contributed to create an emergency situation that could have been avoided.
At the root of the problem was the desire of the Progressive Conservative government under John Diefenbaker to save a buck.
Yeah, that does sound a lot Saskatoon. The only difference is that Montreal actually fixes it’s crumbling bridges while we just let ours fall apart.
This Sunday’s photo of a house of worship from The Daily is Paroisse St. Philippe de Neri Parish Roman Catholic Church in Vonda, Saskatchewan.
A tide of discontent is sweeping across Russia’s “rust belt” as the Kremlin tries to convince tens of thousands to relocate from their homes.
Authorities are offering up to $25,000 in state support for people willing to leave 142 struggling so-called “monotowns,” communities depending on a single industry.
Many Russians are unhappy about being asked to leave places that several generations of their families have called home. Critics also allege the level of compensation isn’t enough and say it will create dozens of “ghost towns.”
“I honestly earned pennies, but still income,” he said. “I am struggling to sell my house for $2,000 — nobody wants it. If I move to a big town, I will have to spend at least $60,000 to buy myself a place.”
By Dec. 28, the final 800 mill workers will lose their jobs — another significant blow to the Siberian town of 14,000 people.
The fate of 700 other people still employed at a different part of the mill which provides heat to all of Baikalsk will be decided by the spring.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last year pledged $1 billion to transform the town on the edge of Lake Baikal into a tourist hotspot. Lake Baikal is a natural treasure that contains more water than all of the Great Lakes combined.
But there has been little sign of investment in the wake of Medvedev’s visit. The town’s central square remains unpaved, hotels and cafes struggle and local newspapers publish pages of advertisements placed by residents looking to sell their apartments in Baikalsk and move closer to Moscow or St. Petersburg.
The lack of action has resulted in angry protests by fired workers in the regional center of Irkutsk.
“The Kremlin simply lied to us; they promised to first create jobs and then close the mill in 2015,” said Yuri Nabokov, the leader of the mill’s professional union. “The mill is closed and hundreds of workers have no chance to live their normal lives in their hometown with their families; authorities tell us to go to far north and work on shifts at oil fields – that makes us even angrier.”
The article also points out the Sochi are costing $50 billion. How messed up is that? Vancouver by comparison cost around $1.84 billion and generated about $2.5 billion in GDP. What is Russia doing?
This morning I was listening to the radio when I heard the Lighthouse ask for donations of personal care items this Christmas. I wasn’t surprised but disappointed. When I was there a contract was finalized with the Ministry of Social Services that paid the Lighthouse very well to house people in its shelters at a going rate of $67.50 a night (that’s been the rate for the last couple of years). Over a month, it is over $2400 a bed a month to house someone (which is why housing first programs are so important). It is a constant rate across the province. Unlike other shelters, the LH gets stable funding for those beds.
When the housing rates were increased, I was invited to the announcement and the government made it really clear that the increase of rates was designed to ensure that not only room and board are taken care of but also things like shampoo and hygiene products. It was to provide a quality level of care. It actually a higher rate than other agencies get to provide the same kind of services. So why if an agency is getting around $2k a bed for room and board, can it not purchase shampoo, tampons, and soap? Especially when there are extremely cheap institutional suppliers that sell this stuff for pennies a package (I know because I used to order it). Even expensive things (like lockers, new beds, and linen) were a cost of doing business and orgs budgeted the money for it.
Even for long term clients, they are not being housed at a loss (going rate is $820 a month, some agencies like the LH get $910 a month from Social Services) Not only that but with the leadership of Premier Wall and the Saskatchewan Party (see, I can give credit where credit is due), the SAID program is giving more money than ever before to ensure clients are comfortable and can have their needs meant. It has been an increase of hundreds of dollars a month. No NGOs are providing services at a loss to the provincial government. So why do so many agencies use this season to ask for money for programs that are clearly fully funded by taxpayers. So we pay our taxes to pay for it and then that money isn’t spent because people will donate as well. It has never made any sense to me. In the end, some non profits are using the cold, the season, and year end generosity to manipulate people into giving more and that sucks.
Even for people who Social Services would not fund (it happens), the cost of housing someone was so low that it never impacted the bottom line on the budget. You were left with laundry costs, water for a shower, and breakfast (which was made anyways). When I was at the Salvation Army, we stopped charging clients for things because they were so cheap to provide for free (like laundry soap) and improved client life. There was always enough money.
A friend of mine was once the national treasurer of a national charitable organization. He told Wendy and I over dinner that we should never give to his organization as it has millions of dollars in surplus every single year and yet it kept going out all over the country and getting more. Those are facts that were never made public but instead the appeal for more or dire consequences would come would be repeated. You know what, Canadians would “answer the call” and give thinking they are needed to keep essential services going. In the end, the programs are totally funded by governments and often more than one level.
I was sitting down with another leader of a large non-profit who was talking about how they make their communications confusing about their finances confusing as accurate information may discourage donors. In other words he didn’t want people to know who much government funding his organization received which helped his appeals for support to individuals and business. I’m sorry but how is that manipulative at best and fraudulent at worst?
Dishonesty and fund raising go part and parcel. Like I said shelters run a profit (or at least the ones I ran did) in excess of six figures per annum some years. Yet what was featured in appeals for help? Shelters. I know people wanted to give but not a single dime of that money ever went to shelter services because it was never needed. Non-profit fundraising is big business even in Saskatchewan. A Regina shelter’s American fundraising firm wasn’t taking Saskatoon clients because their Regina client is fund raising here (with them taking a large portion of what is raised). The firm is quite impressive and is using micro targeted mailing lists to target Saskatoon households and blocks. Oddly enough while the parse up Saskatoon by the street according to income, they fail to understand that we are in Saskatoon and their client serves Regina. It’s not my money.
There are some programs that desperately need help but it’s hard to figure out which ones. One agency I know of proudly states they get no government funding when in reality, about 90% of their revenue comes from the Ministry of Social Services. I don’t know how they reconcile that but that is the line they give to donors and the media. It makes no sense to me.
My point is that you may want to look hard at who you donate to this season and ask some really hard questions about how that money is being spent and why they need money for it. For some orgs, they may be working in an area where the governments don’t really care like food security (Friendship Inn and Saskatoon Food Bank). Food programs almost never get government funding and are almost entirely dependent on donations. That may be a good place to start.
Another thing to consider is why are some agencies asking for money for things when others are not? If the government funding is there, why do some keep asking for donations to help the same group of clients that several other types of housing providers are not. It’s awkward to ask those questions and my experience and seeing those financials is that answer is often unpleasant. Tim Richter, the head of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness talks of the homeless industrial complex and he is right. I saw it up close for 8 years. It can be really self-serving.
Personally my giving tends to be attached to areas where the government doesn’t like to participate in or does a really bad job of working in. I also put my money where my mouth is and I give money directly to a couple of people who need the help. I have written about the benefits of giving money directly to people before and it’s benefits and it is something that I believe in.
Those are my thoughts. I am sorry if I hurt anyone by these thoughts. I hate to say it but if I have, I may not have a lot of respect for what your org is doing anyways.
One of the most insidious effects of living in high-poverty, chronically disadvantaged neighborhoods is the severe strain these areas have on residents’ mental and emotional health. New research shows that poverty imposes a psychological burden so great that the poor are left with little mental “bandwidth” with which to perform everyday tasks.
The constant anxiety and stress resulting from witnessing and experiencing trauma and violence in distressed neighborhoods, negotiating the sacrifices and trade-offs caused by food insecurity, living in unstable housing conditions, struggling to pay bills, and dealing with numerous other worries burn up cognitive capacity that could otherwise be used for productive activities like navigating public assistance systems, providing for an entire family on a limited budget, and helping children with schoolwork.
For children, the long-term mental health effects of poverty are even more alarming. In addition to occupying cognitive resources needed for education (arguably the clearest path out of poverty), poverty is toxic to children. Persistent stress and exposure to trauma trigger harmful stress hormones that permanently affect children’s brain development and even their genes. The damage to childhood development is so severe that medical professionals now describe the early effects of poverty as a childhood disease.
Because of the debilitating cognitive effects of poverty on both adults and children, clinical mental health services are a central component of the Urban Institute’s Housing Opportunities and Services Together (HOST) demonstration. HOST is testing an intensive, dual-generation, case management model for children and adults who live in public and mixed-income communities suffering from concentrated poverty, chronic violence, and low levels of trust and social cohesion. HOST’s coordinated and comprehensive place-based intervention aims to stabilize whole families and improve a range of educational, health, and employment outcomes.
Baseline survey data from the first two HOST sites—Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens, a large public housing development that has high rates of crime, and Portland’s mixed-income New Columbia and Humboldt Gardens—clearly illustrate a relationship between distressed neighborhoods and mental health. Rates of elevated worry among HOST adults in both sites are up to six times higher than rates among adults nationwide, and depression among adults in the Portland site is nearly four times more prevalent. Even more disturbing, youth in the Chicago HOST site experience long-term anxiety and worry at levels seven times higher than those of youth nationwide.
In other words for many youth, even if they escape the economic impact of poverty, the mental health part of it remains.
"That Justin Trudeau would use Jack Layton’s dying words as a political tool says everything that needs to be said about Justin Trudeau’s judgment and character," Mulcair said.
New Democrat MP Olivia Chow, Layton’s widow, focused her reaction on Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"I’m quite surprised that the leader of the Liberals used my late husband’s words, but at the end of the day Stephen Harper is the prime minister," Chow said.
"If we are to have a better country, and certainly Canadians deserve a lot better, we need to focus on Stephen Harper. Yes, we are the party of love, hope and optimism and let’s be hopeful. Let’s not be fearful of each other, but let’s train our eyes on the real problem, which is Stephen Harper’s government."
Trudeau, however, was unapologetic, accusing the NDP of being nasty and divisive in the hard-fought campaigns, which saw all three major parties use aggressive tactics.
In other words, it is okay for the NDP to use Layton’s dying words as a political tool but not Justin Trudeau. I am glad we got that straight.
Can someone tell me why the Saskatchewan Roughriders are not doing this with Gainer the Gopher?
In case you are wondering, this is from the University of Minnesota Gophers stadium. I love it. Here it is on video.
A Minnesota spokesperson told BTN.com that the dramatic gopher video (it’s actually a chipmunk, but whatever) had been ready to go since the Big Ten opener against Iowa, but Saturday was the first time an opponent had tried a field goal facing the video board. The school plans to use it from here on out.
This needs to happen Regina. Get on it.
“If you aren’t padding your numbers, you aren’t trying“. Not sure if I agree with that.
Mr. Vidmar offers a window into the shadowy world of false accounts and computerized robots on Twitter, one of the world’s largest social networks. Surrounded by a dozen computers at his home overlooking a golf course near the Las Vegas Strip, Mr. Vidmar has been buying fake accounts and unleashing them on Twitter for six years.
Today, he says he manages 10,000 robots for roughly 50 clients, who pay Mr. Vidmar to make them appear more popular and influential.
His are among millions of fake accounts on Twitter. Mr. Vidmar and other owners manage them to simulate Twitter users: they tweet; retweet, or forward, other tweets; send and reply to messages; and follow and unfollow other Twitter accounts, among other actions.
Some entertainers pay for fake followers. But false accounts can be political tools as well. In 2011, thousands of fake accounts disrupted anti-Kremlin protesters on Twitter.
The fake accounts remain a cloud over Twitter Inc. in the wake of its successful initial public offering. “Twitter is where many people get news,” says Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. “If what is trending on Twitter is being faked by robots, people need to know that. This will and should undermine trust.”
Fake accounts thrive on Twitter in part because, unlike Facebook, FB +1.07% Twitter doesn’t limit users to a single account, or require them to use their real names.
Twitter’s terms of service prohibit “mass account creation,” and the buying or selling of accounts or followers. Last spring, Twitter helped a research team apply a filter that, for a time, blocked 95% of new fake accounts.
A Twitter spokesman wouldn’t disclose whether the company has continued to use the researchers’ technique to identify and block suspect accounts.
While conceding that fakes are “a difficult problem, the Twitter spokesman said, “We have a variety of automated and manual controls in place to detect, flag, and suspend accounts created solely for spam purposes.”
On Friday the company posted a job opening ad on its site for an anti-spam product manager position.
Mr. Vidmar says Facebook has suspended his accounts and threatened legal action for pursuing similar activities on that network. Twitter hasn’t contacted or reprimanded him, he says, though it has suspended or deleted several personal accounts he has used to pitch his business.
In securities filings, Twitter says it believes fake accounts represent fewer than 5% of its 230 million active users. Independent researchers believe the number is higher.
Italian security researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli say they found 20 million fake accounts for sale on Twitter this summer. That would amount to nearly 9% of Twitter’s monthly active users. The Italian researchers also found software for sale that allows spammers to create unlimited fake accounts. The researchers decoded robot-programming software to reveal how easy it is for spammers to control the convincing fakes.
Twitter declined to discuss specific findings.
Jason Ding, a researcher at Barracuda Labs who has studied fake Twitter followers for more than a year, also thinks Twitter underestimates the prevalence of fake accounts on the network. Mr. Ding says users don’t understand how active and realistic the fakes can appear.
For 10 months in 2012 and 2013, a team of researchers from the University of California Berkeley and George Mason University worked with Twitter’s security department to help identify fake accounts and minimize robot activity.
The team bought fake accounts on the black market, identified common characteristics, and developed a filter that would block roughly 95% of such accounts. Twitter’s previous system caught about 8% of fake accounts, the researchers said. They presented the results at an academic conference.
In April, Twitter and the researchers applied the filter. Mr. Vidmar says he remembers the day, because most of his fake accounts were deleted, and he couldn’t create new ones. “They cleaned house,” he says.
But Mr. Vidmar and others say the underground market quickly adapted. The researchers’ system flagged accounts with incomplete profiles, no pictures, and little activity. In response, Mr. Vidmar says suppliers now fill out more account details, add pictures, and tweet from the accounts before selling them.
That drove up the cost of fake accounts. But marketers and researchers say the black market is again thriving.
Just two weeks after the crackdown, Twitter caught only about half the suspicious accounts being offered by merchants previously identified as selling fake accounts, according to the Berkeley researchers.
Mr. Vidmar says one of his suppliers is offering 150,000 fake accounts for sale. “I could go buy fake accounts from about 20 different sources right now,” he says.