Fake follower economy definitely has far-reaching consequences
It’s happened to everybody. You start up your new social media account, begin unloading your revolutionary thoughts onto the world, and you get the wonderful notification that a complete stranger wants to follow your social media activity.
However, you then quickly find out that the follower is a programmed bot, a barely-used account, or a scammer using someone’s bikini-clad image as their profile picture. In other words, someone that doesn’t care what you had for breakfast this morning.
Fake users dominate the internet. According to The Atlantic, over half of internet traffic is due to bots. And social media is no different. Business Insider reported on a 2015 study that discovered nearly 8 percent of all accounts on Instagram are, in fact, fake spam bots. Twitter has faced this issue as well, with 2017 research from the University of Indiana and the University of Southern California theorizing that up to 15 percent of Twitter users are, in fact, fake accounts believed to be owned by bots. Even President Donald Trump, owner of the particularly notorious Twitter account @ realDonaldTrump, has been speculated to have a sizeable fake following, with the online tool Twitter Audit claiming nearly half of his followers to be inauthentic.
However, these fake accounts do more than just gunk up one’s follower base. Fake followers have also disrupted the billion dollar industry of influencer marketing, where a company will invest in a social media account to promote its product. Just how much do you get for acclimating followers and participating in influencer marketing? According to Forbes, an Instagram account with 100,000 followers can usually make $5,000 for a sponsored post. However, this gets complicated once fake followers are accounted for.
In fact, in order to prove just how easy it is to take advantage of influencer marketing, internet marketing agency MediaKix used some previously existing images and stock photos to create Instagram accounts, purchasing followers and engagement. The accounts accumulated thousands of fake followers, even going on to generate their own sponsorship deals, with free products and even cash offered to the (fake) owners of the fabricated accounts.
This also proves one of the largest issues within the community: using money to expand a social media following. Derek Muller, host of YouTube’s Veritasium, explained in a 2014 video the two different ways followers are purchased, either directly from “click farms” (where underpaid workers engage with Social Networking online) or through legitimate paid posts on Facebook. Through an experiment in the same video, he discovered that, while his following had definitely grown through legitimate post promotion, his posts didn’t get any additional engagement. This is because, interestingly enough, many of his new followers seemed to be from these same click farms, resulting in his organic posts remaining unseen by many of his actual followers. Because of this, page admins are encouraged to spend more money on promotions so that followers can actually see their posts, meaning they literally have to pay for fans to see their content.
This fake follower economy definitely has far- reaching consequences. Not only does it damage the influencer marketing world; it has also turned social media growth into another money-making opportunity for the platforms. Luckily, there are ways to avoid gaining a follower base of purely bots, scammers, or both. Online tools such as the aforementioned Twitter Audit can help users identify how real those followers can be. With “fake news,”and, now, “fake people,” it’s up to internet users to stay informed and savvy in the modern era of online mistrust.