Building an audience (or a social media following) is hard work, which is why some try to take a shortcut. They fake an audience by buying followers, or they fake popularity by paying for retweets, likes, and shares.
This only buys the appearance of an audience rather than a real audience, which is why it made my list of 8 ways for authors to waste their money.
That appearance of a fanbase is enough for some, which is why it has been possible to buy followers on sites like Fiverr. The practice is nearly a decade old, but yesterday the NYTimes noted that this shady back alley industry has gone corporate.
They profiled a New York company, Devumi, making it the poster child for the industry.
Despite rising criticism of social media companies and growing scrutiny by elected officials, the trade in fake followers has remained largely opaque. While Twitter and other platforms prohibit buying followers, Devumi and dozens of other sites openly sell them. And social media companies, whose market value is closely tied to the number of people using their services, make their own rules about detecting and eliminating fake accounts.
Devumi’s founder, German Calas, denied that his company sold fake followers and said he knew nothing about social identities stolen from real users. “The allegations are false, and we do not have knowledge of any such activity,” Mr. Calas said in an email exchange in November.
The Times reviewed business and court records showing that Devumi has more than 200,000 customers, including reality television stars, professional athletes, comedians, TED speakers, pastors and models. In most cases, the records show, they purchased their own followers. In others, their employees, agents, public relations companies, family members or friends did the buying. For just pennies each — sometimes even less — Devumi offers Twitter followers, views on YouTube, plays on SoundCloud, the music-hosting site, and endorsements on LinkedIn, the professional-networking site.
The actor John Leguizamo has Devumi followers. So do Michael Dell, the computer billionaire, and Ray Lewis, the football commentator and former Ravens linebacker. Kathy Ireland, the onetime swimsuit model who today presides over a half-billion-dollar licensing empire, has hundreds of thousands of fake Devumi followers, as does Akbar Gbajabiamila, the host of the show “American Ninja Warrior.” Even a Twitter board member, Martha Lane Fox, has some.
At a time when Facebook, Twitter and Google are grappling with an epidemic of political manipulation and fake news, Devumi’s fake followers also serve as phantom foot soldiers in political battles online. Devumi’s customers include both avid supporters and fervent critics of President Trump, and both liberal cable pundits and a reporter at the alt-right bastion Breitbart. Randy Bryce, an ironworker seeking to unseat Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, bought Devumi followers when he was a blogger and labor activist, as did Louise Linton, the wife of the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, when she was trying to gain traction as an actress.
This is an old practice, and one that no one really wanted to fix. The only site that I know has culled fake accounts is Instagram.
Facebook, Twitter, and most of the social networks have instead turned a blind eye to the practice, and with good reason: they benefit from the appearance of increased activity, after all, and if they delete the fake accounts their user base will appear to shrink. This looks bad on the quarterly reports, and that matters more than fraudulent activity.
Or at least it used to matter more.
It is now abundantly clear that the fake accounts that Facebook, Twitter, et al were ignoring have had a negative influence on both social discourse in general and the 2016 election in particular.
This NYTimes article is going to add weight to the demands that these fake accounts be deleted.
So if you are thinking about buying fake followers you should be aware that they could soon vanish into the ether.
But even if these fake accounts remain, it is still a waste of money to buy fake followers – all you are buying is the appearance of popularity, and not a real audience.
image by Canadian Starhawk