The technology section of today’s New York Times has a feature-length article titled The Follower Factory. It details the black market for fake users and fake followers on Facebook and Twitter. People who make money by having lots of followers (wanna be celebrities, brands, authors) can buy fake followers from companies that create fake users of varying quality and will have those fake users follow the buyer’s page or feeds.
So, if I wanted to make this blog seem popular and influential, I’d simply buy a few tens of thousands of fake followers, for a penny or two each.
Why should we care? Beyond the obvious fraud perpetrated on businesses like advertising that pay based on numbers of followers, there are two reasons:
- Fake users are impacting our political discourse: It turns out that people give more credibility to posts and tweets from people and organizations with many followers. But, of course, there’s no easy way to know whether those followers are real or purchased fake followers.
- Fake users can affect real people’s reputations: So-called high-quality fake users mimic real users, copying key aspects of their profiles like name, location, school, age, gender, etc. When fake users promote, for example, pornographic web sites, the reputations of the corresponding real users are affected. I have a (real-life) friend who has been plagued by fake users on Facebook that mimic him and then try to befriend his Facebook friends.