Some of you might recognize the title of my blog. How to Win Friends and Influence People is an extremely well known book in the business world by Dale Carnegie, which as you may infer, teaches readers how to win friends and influence people. But, I have good news for everyone. I have found an even more effective way to influence others. You can now purchase fake retweets, likes, followers, etc. from the company, Devumi, to increase your social media influence. You can grow your platforms by the thousands just for a few hundred dollars. Sounds great right? Think again.
This week, I chose to focus on a New York Times investigation piece I recently read concerning the dark side/black market/sleazy aspects of the social media and digital marketing industry. As Professor Osbon told us on the first day of class, digital marketing, and specifically social media, is a relatively brand new aspect of business. Sure, we as millennials know all about social media, but this technology is so new that we often forgot how the industry is still evolving and innovating new techniques to further be intertwined into every aspect of business.
The New York Time’s article, written by Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel J.X. Dance, Richard Harris and Mark Hansen, is an extensive piece highlighting social media’s black market in which companies, influencers, and celebrities of all kinds pay for fake followers. Not only do these high profile customers pay for the fake followers known as “bots”, but many of these fake followers are stolen accounts of real people. The mysterious American company Devumi, is at the center of this article, and makes its profit by selling twitter followers and retweets to anyone who wants to appear more popular or wishes to increase their influence online. Essentially, this company is profiting off of professional catfish-ing and reselling of fake accounts to celebrities, athletes, CEOs, companies, and even politicians.
Upon reading the first paragraphs of this article, I was upset. I was upset because it sadly shows that companies are willing to make money doing literally anything. Despite the concept of selling “social influence” is intriguing and innovative to analyze, it is a business concept that is moving the future in the wrong direction. Living in a time where facts are under assault and the legitimacy of “fake news” is growing, this increasing footprint of bots that have the ability to sway debates and political followings is scary. Not only is it frightening on a large scale, but the semi-plausible idea that there is a bot with my name, picture, and hometown being sold over and over again for profit is highly alarming and highlights the unethical side of a industry that is largely unregulated and untouched.
Specifically, there were a number of facts about this black market that emphasize the expansive amount of bots currently on social media platforms:
- “At least 55,000 of the accounts use the names, profile pictures, hometowns and other personal details of real Twitter users, including minors.”
- “As many as 48 million of Twitter’s reported active users — nearly 15 percent — are automated accounts designed to simulate real people.”
- “Facebook has disclosed to investors that up to 60 million automated accounts may roam the world’s largest social media platform.”
Lastly, these shady black market transactions are completely legal due to the lack of laws and regulations in the social media realm. Devumi can legally steal existing (though they use different wording and swears they aren’t doing so) twitter, instagram, and facebook accounts and resell those same faces and content to influencers and companies alike that wish to grow their digital footprint and impact. The thousands of “likes” and “retweets” influencers, celebrities, and political figures receive are more likely than not bought to help promote their image and endorsements.
I urge everyone to read this New York Times investigation. It is a lengthy and in depth read, but it provides a thoroughly investigation and explanation of this “follower factory”.