The Follower Factory

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

Excerpt from this article:

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.

Advertisements

Inside the black market where people pay thousands of dollars for Instagram verification

Excerpt from this article:

The product for sale isn’t a good or a service. It’s a little blue check designated for public figures, celebrities, and brands on Instagram. It grants users a prime spot in search as well as access to special features.

More importantly, it’s a status symbol. The blue emblem can help people gain legitimacy in the business of influencer marketing and bestows some credibility within Instagram’s community of 700 million monthly active users. It cannot be requested online or purchased, according to Instagram’s policies. It is Instagram’s velvet rope.

But it’s clear from people who spoke on the condition of anonymity, many of whom have their own blue checkmarks, that a black market for Instagram verification is alive and well.

And it’s an open secret in the influencer community.

“It all comes down to money and who you know,” said one seller, who agreed to go by his first name, James. “It’s sad, but it’s kind of how life is, you know?”

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

🛶

A post shared by Amanda Smith (@wanderingggirl) on

Excerpt from this article:

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.

Popularity Isn’t Cool Anymore

Excerpt from this article:

There is a direct correlation between the number of people at a party whose names have appeared next to the word “influencer,” and the likelihood of fremdscham, the German term for vicarious embarrassment for those who lack shame. I have attended events where the flash of a phone’s camera turns otherwise rational adults into overeager strivers, dashing across the room to join group photos, shout-spelling their Instagram handles over the din….

Anyway, this is a very good summary of social media climbing and why you hate it so much.