Every Bot Has Its Day! The New York Times recently published a story, “The Follower Factory” where they revealed that celebrities, athletes, pundits, and politicians have purchased millions of fake followers. They revealed how little known companies such as Devumi have high profile celeb clientele who purchase millions of followers in order to appear popular. It’s a very well researched story on what the bot profiles consist of and who these popular folks are who buy followers.
To put it simply the story “revealed”
- Popular personalities might have purchased followers. These include A president, an actress from Scandal, an American Idol contestant, and a star quarterback
- Companies such as Devumi and Social Envy sell followers (essentially bot profiles, which are fake profiles of real people)
- And the New York Times story also embarrassed a few folks who had purchased followers.
You might say, “Big Deal!” It’s a very well know fact that celebs buy fake followers in order to appear more popular on social media. The New York Times did not reveal anything. What they are saying is nothing new. In fact it’s the kind of a “secret” that everyone knows. Buying Followers on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or subscribers on YouTube is simple, quick and cheap today. There are host of companies that offer these services. Though what they do and how they do it is suspect. In fact most of them could rely on fake or bot accounts. You can get a million followers without spending much. Simply Google “buy followers”.
But let’s be fair. It did have an impact.
Paul Hollywood was one of the celebrities exposed for having bought followers – prompting him to delete his entire account out of shame.
Since the story came out, a lot of “influencers” have started loosing followers. According to NYT, more than a million followers have disappeared from the profiles of prominent Twitter users including celebrities, athletes, media figures, entrepreneurs and bloggers.
Around the same time when this purged happened, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan complained to Twitter and threatened to quit as suddenly his followers were reduced.
Did Amitabh Bachchan Buy Fake Followers?
I’m just saying that the sudden loss in followers for Amitabh Bachchan coincides with the crackdown on fake accounts by Twitter. Let’s leave it that.
But what’s the big deal in buying followers?
Politicians and celebrities in the past have hired people on rent to attend there rallies and events. Buying followers are essentially the same thing in the virtual world. Isn’t it?
There is a problem here. Fake profiles are essentially impersonated profiles of real people. The New York Times has shared a couple of good examples. Imagine your online identity being replicated and doing things that you’d never do or even think of and an obscure company like a Devumi perhaps making millions out of it. That’s not cool.
It also violates guidelines of social networking (seriously?) sites such as Twitter and Facebook. After the New York Times story on the fake followers came out, Twitter in a statement said that, “The tactics used by Devumi on our platform and others as described by today’s NYT article violate our policies and are unnacceptable to us. We are working to stop them and any companies like them.”
While Twitter recently for the first time in its history reported a profit, it’s been slow on dealing with problem of fake followers. It could be because removing these bot profiles means lower monthly active users for the social networking site. Twitter has been criticized for no growth in monthly active users. Its stock price also has suffered.
So being slow on removing fake profiles wouldn’t have hurt Twitter. You might think that number of bot profiles might be an insignificant number as compared to the total users on Twitter.
Not really. Our of 330 million active users on Twitter (as of Q3, 2017), it was estimated that approximately 48 million to 50 million were bot or fake accounts. That makes bot or fake accounts constitute approximately 15% of all accounts.
Twitter by its own estimate claimed that approx. 8.5% of its accounts contacted Twitter’s servers “…without any discernable additional user-initiated action.” Essentially 8.5% of its accounts could be bots or maybe more.
The problem is not restricted to Twitter. According to Facebook’s own estimate the number of duplicate accounts are 10% and fake accounts are 2-3%. In its annual report, Facebook estimated that the duplicate accounts may have represented approximately 10% of the worldwide MAUs (Monthly Active Users). As of December 31, 2017, Facebook had approximately 2.13 billion Monthly active users, which makes the number of duplicates & fake to be above 200 million.
But are fake profiles and duplicate profiles that big a deal? Fake Profiles and Bot Profiles seem to have a lot of merits for a lot of folks in the entire ecosystem. Let me list a few.
Growth in Users and Stock Price for social networking sites.
Why would it hurt Twitter or Facebook in having more active users? I’m sure server space is the last of their worries.
On the positive side, it shows the world that they have a large a growing user base. It helps their stock price (if not the ad revenue).
The only disadvantage that bot and fake profiles have is bad press like the New York Times story. That does impact stock, which could be the reason of perhaps randomly acting on such stories. The story simply embarrassed people and maybe Twitter. Twitter quickly removed a lot of bot profiles right after the New York Times story came out. I’m sure Twitter did not create a mechanism to remove them overnight. They could’ve done this before. A few days later all of it got covered up in Twitter reporting profits for the first time in its history and its stock jumping up.
Demand for Being Popular Quickly and Spending Less.
There seems to be a huge market around buying of fake or bot profiles. As the New York Times story claimed there are people willing to pay a price to buy lots of followers. There is group and a seemingly large group of people who want to be popular quickly without really doing much. They just want to spend less. Why wouldn’t they? They also seem to care less about who is following them. The supply of fake followers and bots is just meeting this demand. You can’t blame these companies.
“Influencers” Make Money
There are folks who buy fake followers for a low cost, appear popular and then charge brands a dime for talking about them. It’s their bread and butter. More the followers, higher their income. Celebrities also work on a similar model. Higher followers just indicate a higher fan following. So it’s in their interest to ensure a high follower count.
Some in turn who “fake” being popular also end up being popular. It’s a simple philosophy – Fake it till you make it! Fans and followers are the currencies of social media. If somebody is printing fake currency, he/she has figured out a way to make more money. Influencer marketing is a huge industry. It is estimated that Influencer marketing on Instagram alone was close to $1 billion in 2017.
In the end, it’s does not seem to be harming a lot of people except a few folks who are unaware.
get conned are willing to pay!
Brands who are not aware of these practices can get conned. They might spend a lot on influencer marketing and might get no real returns. Since all the marketing they are doing is to non-existent people who have non-existent money. Though the numbers in the power point slides of the brand managers look great. Brands are now spending money on “influencers” who have artificially inflated their followers.
There is a very interesting story of a dedicated influencer marketing agency Mediakix that supposedly purchased followers to prove how the industry is full of ad fraud.
By using services readily available online (similar to Devumi), they purchased fake followers and engagement for 2 accounts and spent $300 and $800 (approx. 50,000 and 30,000 fake followers). Then they signed each up on popular influencer marketing platforms and applied for daily campaigns posted by brands. Within a few weeks, brands offered their fake Instagram influencers free products and money that totaled more than $500. I’m sure that their $1100 investment would’ve paid off in a few months.
In the end, the entire market of fake profiles on social media makes money for a lot of folks, and harms a few. The new York Times story like many such stories earlier will definitely deter a few celebrities from indulging in these practices. They risk loosing a lot. But the entire market will thrive. There are social networking sites who seem willing to allow it to thrive and there are quite a few folks making a lot of money. The New York Times definitely found a few soft targets. And why blame social media and fake profile alone? The internet is full of bots. In 2016 total bot traffic on the internet included accounted for 51.8% of online traffic.
For now the fake profiles and bots are here to stay.