The Follower Factory

Jessica Rychly, whose social identity was stolen by a Twitter bot when she was in high school. 

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All these accounts belong to customers of an obscure American company named Devumi that has collected millions of dollars in a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud. Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers, a New York Times investigation found.

The accounts that most resemble real people, like Ms. Rychly, reveal a kind of large-scale social identity theft. At least 55,000 of the accounts use the names, profile pictures, hometowns and other personal details of real Twitter users, including minors, according to a Times data analysis.

The Times reviewed business and court records showing that Devumi has more than 200,000 customers, including reality television stars, professional athletes, comedians, TED speakers, pastors and models. In most cases, the records show, they purchased their own followers. In others, their employees, agents, public relations companies, family members or friends did the buying. For just pennies each — sometimes even less — Devumi offers Twitter followers, views on YouTube, plays on SoundCloud, the music-hosting site, and endorsements on LinkedIn, the professional-networking site.

Several Devumi customers acknowledged that they bought bots because their careers had come to depend, in part, on the appearance of social media influence. “No one will take you seriously if you don’t have a noteworthy presence,” said Jason Schenker, an economist who specializes in economic forecasting and has purchased at least 260,000 followers.

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Chinese shoe company tricks people into swiping Instagram ad with fake strand of hair

 

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How an A.I. ‘Cat-and-Mouse Game’ Generates Believable Fake Photos

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At a lab in Finland, a small team of Nvidia researchers recently built a system that can analyze thousands of (real) celebrity snapshots, recognize common patterns, and create new images that look much the same — but are still a little different. The system can also generate realistic images of horses, buses, bicycles, plants and many other common objects.

The project is part of a vast and varied effort to build technology that can automatically generate convincing images — or alter existing images in equally convincing ways. The hope is that this technology can significantly accelerate and improve the creation of computer interfaces, games, movies and other media, eventually allowing software to create realistic imagery in moments rather than the hours — if not days — it can now take human developers.

In recent years, thanks to a breed of algorithm that can learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data, companies like Google and Facebook have built systems that can recognize faces and common objects with an accuracy that rivals the human eye. Now, these and other companies, alongside many of the world’s top academic A.I. labs, are using similar methods to both recognize and create.

Nvidia’s images can’t match the resolution of images produced by a top-of-the-line camera, but when viewed on even the largest smartphones, they are sharp, detailed, and, in many cases, remarkably convincing.

The viral story of Taiwan Jones, who learned he failed his midterms on Twitter, doesn’t add up

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In other words, the “Taiwan Jones” account that went super viral was very likely changed from a previous Twitter handle to match that of the student described in the midterm tweet. It’s a well known, relatively easy trick that shows up again and again in dubious viral Twitter moments. It also works pretty well, as the hundreds of thousands of retweets on the “Taiwan Jones” reply show.

Are fake events the new fake news?

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…as Facebook becomes dominant, and promoters strive to get more eyeballs on their nights out, more of us are noticing an element of bull in the events we see on the social network. If you’re lucky enough not to have been trolled by one, these are commonly events that are promoting something large and lavish – but suspiciously lack any basic information, such as a venue, a price, or specifics on DJs or acts playing.

…So why set up a fake event? We asked Ryan Palmer, a DJ used to playing the kind of genuine raves that bogus events pretend to advertise, who also happens to have a background in hacking. First off, he noticed that pages such as the ‘Secret Woodland Rave’ would have ‘many events running in different cities at more or less the same time, which were logistically impossible to pull off’. Through Google image searches, he also noticed that the photos used were actually of random events, such as Eastern European free parties. There were no contact details on most of the pages either.

Palmer thought at first that the motive was a nefarious plot to extract data, which is potentially true in some cases. But the recurring theme is that a day before the event is supposed to happen, it will be ‘postponed’ and then changed into something advertising a paid event. The problem with Facebook is that it lets you change essentially everything about an event while still keeping the valuable harvest of people who previously asked for notifications. So by clicking ‘interested’ for a Summer Rooftop Party, you may ultimately end up getting spammed by a student night in Bournemouth a week later.

This Instagram Account Made Influencer Money Posting Nothing But Free Stock Photos

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A post shared by Amanda Smith (@wanderingggirl) on

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Amanda Smith, known on Instagram as @wanderingggirl, has 31,000 followers. She’s posted a little over 40 times, sharing photos of her travels to beautiful locations around the world — kayaking in clear blue waters, peering out over the city of Paris, gazing onto the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. But Amanda has a secret. She doesn’t really exist.

Instead, the @wanderingggirl account was part of a months-long experiment by marketing firm Mediakix — they constructed two fake accounts and were able to turn a profit on both — to find out just how easy it is to become a fake influencer, and earn the sponsorship deals that come with being an “influencer” on Instagram. Turns out, it’s pretty easy. All you need is a couple hundred dollars in start-up cash and some decent photos. Mediakix CEO Evan Asano told Select All the firm came up with the idea last year, after noticing an Instagrammer they were planning to work with had doubled her following in just over a week. “I started to really look at it and start to wonder if she had just bought a ton of followers, which is really easy to do,” Asano said. “There’s really no way to grow that quickly in just a week-and-a-half.”

Enter @wanderingggirl and @calibeachgirl310, a.k.a. Alexa Rae, Mediakix’s second fake account. To create Rae’s account, Mediakix hired a model and shot photos on a beach in California. From there, Asano said they spent $750 buying followers and photo engagement — likes and comments — for the account. The firm only spent $300 on @wanderingggirl, and all the photos posted from that account were “free stock photos,” which anybody could get online.

This Guy Keeps Getting Killed in Terrorist Attacks

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If this face seems familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen it associated with any number of recent terror incidents. This man has apparently died at least three times since January, most recently in the terrorist attack at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul. So what gives?

… All these claims are, obviously, false. Regrettably, these social media shenanigans have been picked up by the media; the man’s photo is currently included in a New York Times video about the victims of the Orlando shooting. Following a BBC article about internet fakes and rumors, an investigative team at France24 decided to dig a little further to find out who this man really is and why this keeps happening to him.

It turns out this mysterious individual may be a bit of a scam artist—or at the very least, a very shitty friend—and this prank is how his victims are enacting their revenge. The social media users who crafted the fake posts all told France24 a similar story, that they knew the man and he had cheated them out of money, ranging from small sums up to $1,000. “Our goal is to ruin his reputation,” said one of the perpetrators, “We want the whole world to recognize his face.”