Sunday, November 30, 2014
Are Your Book Followers & Fan Connections Fake?
An essay in The New York Times by tech expert Nick Bilton disturbingly exposed how social media connections are not what they seem to be. There have been stories in the past about people “buying” followers, but I’d never heard to what extent the social media world is a big fake until I read this.
The November 20th piece showed how at least 6% of Kim Kardashian’s 25 million Twitter followers are fake. That’s 1.5 million! And 12% of Charlie Sheen’s 11 million Twitter followers are non-existent – another 1.3 million! It’s possible, though people can buy fake followers, they may have some fake followers without purposely trying to acquire them.
“Each year,” writes Bilton, whom the firm I work for once promoted his book, "Facebook has said it finds 67 million to 137 million fake accounts on its service. Twitter said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that 8.5 percent, or around 24 million, of its accounts are bots. And Instagram is littered with millions of bots that copy people’s profiles, share their photos and leave comments on images.”
Have the robots taken over, muddying the real world with fake people and false content?
So what we have online is the marketplace of liars, hucksters, and cheaters. You can build a brand the natural and legitimate way or you can immediately buy a non-existent following to make yourself appear to be a big authority. Such a standing can buy you a chance to be paid to practice another ugly element of the digital world – product pitching.
For a fee, you can tweet out something about a product you were paid to promote. People don’t slow down to read the fine print and see that a tweet was paid for. They don’t notice search engine searches that come up from paid advertisers. They don’t notice if a blog post was written because a client paid for it. Call it deceptive or an uninformed and lazy public, but such practices have taken the Internet over.
George Orwell tried to warn us about Big Brother. Instead of it being a dictator government ruling over us and monitoring us, we’ve done it to ourselves, allowing online companies to violate our privacy, letting hackers hijack our identities, and voluntarily exposing our lives through social media posts. He also tried to warn us about history being rewritten or of truth being replaced with a fake dogma. Well, we’re allowing the Internet to spread lies, rumors, unchecked facts, incomplete data, misinterpreted information, and now fake content from non-existent people.
It’s time to reign in the Wild West side of the Internet. Yes, regulation. Enforcement. Taxation.
Keep it simple:
· Free and open access to the Internet.
· Charge sales tax on all financial transactions, as you would at a brick and mortar location.
· Enforce libel laws and other rules regarding truth in advertising.
· Have a site that exposes scams, untruths, unethical practices, illegal activities – make sure it’s complete, up-to-date, and promoted heavily.
· Jail those who do things like sell fake followers or publish content as if it were real when it’s not.
Right now there’s big money in fake stuff. Until we stop the incentive to cheat and mislead, we’ll be left with a world we can’t trust. As more of our lives moves online, can we entrust our world to breath and exist in a medium that’s built on a false foundation?
“A giant pyramid scheme has emerged on social media,” writes Bilton, “where false friends now command real money. Here’s how the pyramid works: With minimal effort, I downloaded a piece of software called Twitter supremacy. For $50 for a six-month license, the software (which violates Twitter’s terms of service agreement) lets me fabricate an unlimited number of friends. Furthermore, I can program those fake accounts to tweet, retweet and follow others automatically, as if they were living, breathing users. (There are dozens of similar services that do this for Instagram, vine, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and Facebook.”
So how are honest authors to compete on a social media playing field that is rigged? How are consumers to trust what they read or see online if there are fakers out there with bogus connections?
We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The Internet has some real holes but it’s not fully broken. Still, it is something that should concern us all when the veracity of connections and content needs to be put under a microscope. We need an honest system that we can trust.
Then again, we’re in a fake culture. Think about it. Fake tans. Fake breasts. Photoshopped images. Lies, omissions, and manipulations are in every dialogue, transaction, or debate – from politics and business to dating sites or Twitter connections. The Internet has the potential to be great – and has advanced society by decades – but it also can be a hotbed for hoaxes, hackers, and haters. Beware of who you talk to online – they might not even exist.