Buying followers—real or fake—on Twitter and other social media platforms has been an irritating problem for years.
The shady firms who offer these services play the vanity card to perfection and it works. It works because we are human and humans need to organize. Like wolves, we need a pack leader, and people mistake high follower counts with quality and expertise. In some cases, a high follower count is validation for earned expertise, but in cases where people or firms buy followers, they’re pedaling a lie.
Pedalling lies is also the daily obsession of Faux News, the Trump White House, and Russian trolls.
We now know that Russia’s Internet Research Agency, indicted by Robert Mueller’s team last week, was at the center of “sowing discord” during the 2016 election. The Russian troll factory is also behind last week’s pro-NRA campaign, meant to upset people advocating for gun control on Twitter in the wake of the Florida shooting.
Not one member of the NRA has been responsible for a mass shooting.
— Andrew (@AndrewCatzaro) February 15, 2018
According to The Daily Beast, the disinformation campaign unfolded in a way that largely evaded public notice at the time, as Russians used American social media platforms, American payment systems and stolen American identities, birth dates and Social Security numbers to infiltrate American debate at its most unpredictable and intense.
The Russians involved in the campaign executed it with almost perfect pitch—learning to mimic the way Americans talk online about politics so well that real Americans with whom they interacted found them in no way suspicious.
For people who spend too much time online, it’s relatively easy to spot a Russian ‘bot. What to do next is the question. Ignore them and go on with your day is always a good option, but so is exposing them, as being exposed is the last thing any Russian troll wants.
Your critical thinking will also help to identify fakes and lies. Look at Twitter and find not famous people with 20K+ followers and then begin to determine whether the person also has a large following offline, or accomplishments that help explain the numbers.
In case you wonder, how these firms works, here’s a closer look at a pitch to buy followers and grow a fake social media presence:
For as little as $299 a month, YourDigitalFace will ‘create your new digital face which sells.’ They’ll set you up on Instagram and write at least two custom posts a day, as well as handle all the little finesses that lead to a big social media following, like deploying hashtags and liking your followers. Plus, you’re guaranteed a minimum of 1,000 new followers a month.
YourDigitalFace is linked to the Russian indictment, but there are countless others ready to take their place.
What’s worse is how gullible or tuned out the buyers of these services are. If people were not vain and didn’t think there were shortcuts to the top, none of this would matter. We all know we can’t change human nature, which leaves regulation of social media. Twitter, for one, could require proof of identification to use their platform. Doing so would drop tens of millions from their site, but the “people” aren’t there anyway. They’re ghosts and Twitter is advancing its own lies about the platform’s widespread popularity.