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Follower Factory

Nicholas Confessore, The Follower Factory, The New York Times, January 27, 2018

Defraud & Ruin

In November, Facebook disclosed to investors that it had at least twice as many fake users as it previously estimated, indicating that up to 60 million automated accounts may roam the world’s largest social media platform. These fake accounts, known as bots, can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations. Yet their creation and sale fall into a legal gray zone.

Through the WI Lens

‘Influencers’ increasingly affect the success (or failure) of companies, particularly in the hospitality and wellbeing industry. It is they who determine what to like (or not), and who have an outsized influence on branding. But as this fascinating piece of investigative journalism demonstrates, the business of influencing is corrupt. The article delves into the global marketplace for social media fraud. As a business, some companies specialize in selling fake followers (and likes and retweets) to influencers and other celebrities (including politicians and investors). Buying bots is big business: an influencer with 100,000 followers might earn an average of $2,000 for a promotional tweet, while an influencer with a million followers might earn $20,000. This booming economy of online influence reaches into virtually any industry where a mass audience can be monetized, and as the article shows, fake accounts deployed by governments, criminals and entrepreneurs now pervade social media networks. According to some people, nearly 15% of active Twitter’s users are automated accounts designed to simulate real people.

The take-away: the industry must take the “likes” and “retweets” with a large pinch of salt and prepare for a future of fake news. Competitors will be very unforgiving for those who cheat.

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