Fake Followers: A Fraudulent Way to Internet Fame

Maybe she’s born with it… or maybe she just bought 100k followers for her Instagram to fake her way to internet fame.

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If you own any social media accounts, like Instagram or Twitter, I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of fake followers. It’s basically referring to the act of buying a certain amount of followers to “boost” your profile and give the illusion that it’s more influential and popular than it really is. Many do this as a means of growing their social media presence, hoping that a large initial following will lead to accelerated natural growth.

In fact, there are over 60 million fake accounts on Facebook alone – and they’re all there to falsely increase your follower count. This is hardly surprising, given the “immense pressure” we put on ourselves to meticulously curate our online persona – including growing our follower count.

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If you’ve ever wondered where these fake followers actually come from – you’re not alone. I did some research, and it turns out the majority of these bot followers come from what is known as “click farms”. These farms can use over 10,000 mobile phones wired to other devices, all for the lucrative business of selling likes, comments and fake followers. But of course, it can’t all be done electronically. No, these farms employ large groups of low-paid workers to manually boost your social media profile. It’s actually quite a profitable business: three Chinese men were earning approximately $2,950 – $4,400 a month before authorities shut down their operation.

Now, if you’ve ever seen these websites or apps that let you buy fake followers and whatnot, you’ve got to admit it all seems pretty sketchy. Even Shane Dawson did some *~investigative journalism~* to see if these seemingly scammy websites actually did deliver results. And what most people conclude is that, yes, these websites do actually give you followers, but they’re ghost followers who don’t engage with your content. This is hardly surprising, considering these followers are all coming from click farms.

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Hootsuite – a social media scheduling platform – even put it to the test. They bought 1,000 followers for $9.95 for a fake Instagram account. Although they got a bunch of followers – more than they had paid for – there was not one single person that engaged with their post. Not a single like or comment. Ouch.

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And this can all look a little bit suspicious, especially for accounts with large followings. A good way to measure if an account has fake followers or not it to look at the engagement rate. The standard engagement rate for a large account should typically range from  around 1.5% to 3.5%, and anything higher is a bonus. This obvious setback has lead to even more deceitful conduct: buying fake likes, comments and engagement for your posts. On Instagram, this behaviour has grown exponentially ever since the new feed algorithm was introduced. And in Russia, you can even buy likes and comments from a goddamn vending machine.

Ultimately, what I’m saying is if you purchase fake followers, inevitably you’re going to get stuck in a cycle. To upkeep this facade, you’re going to have to continuously buy followers, likes and comments – a pretty expensive endeavour. For example, on Buzzoid you can buy “engaged” followers for a whopping $99 per month, or 10,000 likes for $69.99. Either way, you’re spending a hell of a lot of money for up-keeping your engagement.

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To top it off, it’s become pretty clear that “botting your way to success” isn’t actually that successful. Many find that authentically communicating with your target audience is far more effective than simply spending money on fake followers and hoping that will stimulate organic growth.

This might be attributed to a few factors that I’ve narrowed down after a bit of investigation. The first is that social media algorithms tend to favour accounts in terms of their engagement rates. Think about Instagram and the Explore page – posts that typically end up there have a very high engagement rate, usually with large accounts commenting and liking the picture or video. And even among your followers, if engagement is low it’s likely that your posts won’t even show up on their feed.

Secondly, when it’s clear that an account has bought followers it completely ruins any credibility. People are often put off by fake followers, as it completely deteriorates their trust in you or your brand. If you remember back in 2014, Instagram culled the many spam accounts infesting the platform and revealed that high profile celebrities such has Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian had fake followers in the millions.

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Another question that was at the forefront when I was researching the phenomena of buying and selling followers was the legality of it all. I personally believe it should be illegal, because in this day an age such falsehood could cost someone dearly. The online influencer market is a billion dollar industry, and social media promotions are swiftly becoming a staple in marketing budgets worldwide. Chloe Morello, famed Australian YouTuber and Instagrammer, even dedicated a whole video exposing fake influencers in the beauty community. As Chloe puts it, “brands are paying top dollar – thousands of dollars – for posts with these people”. Which might be all for naught, when you consider a single day’s worth of posts under the #sponsored or #ad tag on Instagram produced over 50% fake engagement. There are even instances of social media influencers who are in fact completely fictional, yet have managed to attain over 80,000 followers thanks to stock images and, you guessed it, fake followers.

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And you’re not escaping blame if you’re a small business either: banks and financial institutions in the U.S. actually analyze the social media accounts of loan applicants prior granting (or not) said applicant a loan. In a world where social media fame can pave the way for so many financial opportunities, surely the act of buying fake followers is illegal? But according to the ACCC, it’s only illegal if you make “any false or misleading claims as part of your marketing and promotional activities”. Which ultimately begs the question, does faking your followers count as “false or misleading”?

I think the whole fake followers set up is a scary representation of how far our society will go to indulge their digital narcissism. In a world where perfectly crafted photos are curated on Instagram, and selfies are saturating our social media feeds, it’s hardly surprising when research shows narcissists are spending more time on social media. And then we’ve got to consider just how overly distracted we as a society have become – there’s so much media and other influencers to compete with. It’s no wonder so many don’t want to put in the elbow grease to create an organic following – it’s unquestionably easier to simply fork out some cash instead. As Eric Schneiderman puts it, the internet is “increasingly being turned into an opaque, pay-to-play playground”.

It’s in our human nature to be liked by others, and I’m not saying that’s wrong. But when it comes to fake followers, I’m calling it how I see it: pure deception at its finest.

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