Twitter’s growing mainstream popularity is a hot topic. It’s why those of us in the tech and digital marketing worlds can’t seem to go a day without reading news headlines about the microblogging service that has fascinated us all.

But Twitter isn’t perfect; there is a dark side.

Twitter has been used to spread misinformation and the compromise of prominent Twitter accounts put everyone on notice that Twitter is a hacker target.

As Twitter grows in popularity with celebrities and marketers there’s a new issue that threatens the Twitterverse: ghost tweeters.

While some of the most famous Twitter users, from Shaquille O’Neal to Lance Armstrong, are the real deal, others aren’t.

Take 50 Cent, for instance. He may have street cred but he doesn’t have Twitter cred. His account on Twitter is actually managed by Chris Romero, who handles Fiddy’s online presence. He told The New York Times that his boss doesn’t actually use Twitter but stated that he didn’t believe this was really an issue, claiming that “the energy of it is all him“. Right.

This phenomenon isn’t even limited to mainstream celebrities: Silicon Valley ‘celebrityGuy Kawasaki, who has over 80,000 followers, proudly uses ghost tweeters too.

While followers of 50 Cent and Guy Kawasaki may or may not take issue with the fact that they’re receiving ghost tweets, ghost tweeters are an issue that digital marketers and social media people need to deal with.

As Twitter breaks out into the larger mainstream market, the prospect that some of its more prominent accounts won’t actually be managed by the supposed owners of those accounts could threaten Twitter’s future. How? If Twitter is flooded by shill accounts that are used primarily for authentic-looking marketing and self-promotion, the current culture of Twitter could give way to a more commercial and less authentic reality.

One of the reasons Twitter has gained so much popularity is that it’s ‘real‘. Up until now, I think most people have assumed that the person on the other end of a tweet was the person you thought it was, not a paid shill.

If Twitter becomes nothing more than a marketing platform and a place for brands, celebrities and the like to promote themselves in the most inauthentic manner possible (ghost tweeters), it’s possible that Twitter could lose the relevance and human touch that made it so attractive in the first place.

What’s most interesting to me is that Twitter seems oblivious to the risk. Accounts of known ghost tweeters, including 50 Cent and Britney Spears are all featured on Twitter’s Suggested User list. The question I’d like to have an answer to is: why?

If Twitter was created to help people stay connected in a simple matter, it might want to ask itself a simple question: are you achieving that when you’re actively promoting users who aren’t really users in the first place?

For celebrities, executives and anyone else with a little bit of name recognition who is thinking about using Twitter, a word of advice: if you aren’t interested in really using Twitter, don’t use it. Be authentic or stay at home.

And for Twitter: please stay true. Don’t reward those whose inauthentic use of your service raises its prominence, but adds nothing of real value.

Photo credit: piccadillywilson via Flickr.