In the end, it is possible that the people you think are important or influencers in social networks are actually ordinary people. The only thing that makes them “different” from you are their millions of followers. There is only one problem with that: they are fake.
An investigation by The New York Times published this weekend has given a deep look to the operation of influence on the Internet. Nowadays, the possession of a massive public on the Internet gives people and entities the opportunity to earn a lot of money. This new industry has given birth to millions of false accounts – or, as the Times says, “ghost soldiers” – managed by bots on social networks.
The newspaper’s research focuses on one company, Devumi, which has earned millions of dollars from the sale of fake accounts. Devumi sells followers to celebrities, politicians, companies and anyone who wants to appear more popular on the Internet, according to the investigation.
It has an inventory of at least 3.5 million fake accounts, most of them sold over and over again. Devumi has provided its clients with more than 200 million followers on Twitter.
The investigation also revealed another alarming detail: Devumi often steals information, photos and geographic location from real users to create their fake accounts. Additionally, the company sells followers at absurdly low prices. The Times bought 25,000 followers on Twitter for $ 225, or about a penny each.
Some of the people who supposedly have or have bought Devumi’s followers include actor John Leguizamo; Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell; Ray Lewis, the football announcer and former professional player; Louise Linton, the wife of the US Secretary of Commerce, Steven Mnuchin; Lenin Moreno, the president of Ecuador; Lane Fox, a member of the British Parliament and a member of the Twitter board; and James Cracknell, an Olympic paddler, among others.
With respect to the presence of these accounts in social networks, according to certain estimates, it is possible that 48 million Twitter accounts are false. Facebook informed its investors in November that it could have up to 60 million false accounts.
The reasons given by the people who bought the followers were varied. In interviews with the Times, some said they bought followers because they were curious about how the process worked. Others claimed that they were under pressure to get followers for themselves or their clients. There were also people who said they did it because everyone bought followers.
Although some said they believed that Devumi was providing real followers, others suspected or knew that they were buying fake accounts.
“It’s a fraud,” Cracknell, who bought 50,000 followers, told the newspaper. “People judge others by how many ‘likes’ or how many followers you have. It’s not healthy. ”
On the other hand, it is also problematic from a business point of view. Companies pay people with many followers to promote their products, wanting to reach the millions of followers of that individual. Social networks themselves also use the number of followers to recommend content that they believe is “popular.”
It is clear that false followers are nothing new. Everyone knows they exist. But in recent months we have realized the scope and impact they have in real life.
After the publication of the Times article, the New York prosecutor announced that he was investigating Devumi . According to the prosecutor, Eric Schneiderman, identity forgery and deception are illegal under New York law.