It's Easy and Cheap to Buy Your Way into Online Fame

By Alyssa Figueroa · 10 Sep 2012

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Picture: Slava Baranskyi/Flickr
Picture: Slava Baranskyi/Flickr
The appearance of fame, popularity and a good reputation on the Internet can be bought at bargain prices these days. For only $20 you can have 500 Facebook "likes" in less than three days. For $10, you can get 1,000 Twitter followers, for $8.50, 5,000 YouTube page views and for $110 you can get 10 detailed book reviews.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times profiled a comedian who paid to increase his number of followers on Twitter. The comedian, named Dan Nainan, bought more than 200,000 Twitter followers for $424.15.

Nainan told the Times:

There’s a tremendous cachet associated with having a large number … When people see that you have that many followers, they’re like: ‘Oh, my goodness, this guy is popular. I might want to book him.’

This new black market for social networking has also led to more business opportunities, as people realize that they can cash in on the desire for fame.

According to another piece in the New York Times, Todd Rutherford discovered this opportunity. As a marketer for a publishing company, it was like pulling teeth to try to get media outlets to review books. He realized he should just write the reviews himself, and so he built a Web site two years ago in which clients could order online reviews.

As the Times stated:

For $499, Mr. Rutherford would do 20 online reviews. A few people needed a whole orchestra. For $999, he would do 50. There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm's-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.

One of Rutherford’s customers became the first self-published author to sell more than 1 million e-books through Amazon. And despite Amazon’s policies prohibiting compensation for reviews, Rutherford was barely phased.

"I was just a pure capitalist," he told the Times.

As fake fans run wild throughout social networking sites, it seems impossible to judge who or what is really noteworthy. Rutherford said he is now suspicious of all reviews. If this phenomenon continues to grow, the significance of these social media tools may be called into question. That’s why some of these companies are trying to step up and put a stop to the commercialization of online interaction.

Last week, Facebook accounced that it is taking steps to delete false likes that were gained via means that violate Facebook’s terms. Facebook says it will target, “Likes gained by malware, compromised accounts, deceived users, or purchased bulk Likes.”

It emphasized:

A Like that doesn't come from someone truly interested in connecting with a page benefits no one. Real identity, for both users and brands on Facebook, is important to not only Facebook’s mission of helping the world share, but also the need for people and customers to authentically connect to the pages they care about.

Of Facebook’s 955 million users, the company estimated about 8.7 percent could be violating its policies, with 4.8 percent having duplicate accounts, 2.4 percent having user-misclassified accounts and 1.5 percent having undesirable accounts. Fake likes not only damage the company’s integrity, but its advertising model too, as advertisers want real people engaging on pages, and people want to be able to trust that a page is as popular as it appears. Twitter is also trying to gain control before all is lost. In April, the company filed a lawsuit against five spammers who created fake Twitter followers. The case is pending.

Another problem with this fake social network world is that some followers and likes don’t need to be purchased, as computer spammers are also creating generated bots. A new tool called StatusPeople has exposed the mass amount of fake followers throughout Twitter. For instance, of President Obama’s more than 19 million Twitter followers, about 70 percent are fake. Likewise, 71 percent of Lady Gaga’s 29 million followers are fake. And suspicion grew wild this summer when Romney’s Twitter followers increased by more than 100,000 followers in one weekend — though his campaign denied it bought followers.

In today’s world, it seems as though to be someone, you have to be someone on the Internet. For many, it has become a validation of who they are and where they stand as well as an indication of how powerful a voice they have. Consequently, people are increasingly willing to pay the price for popularity. And as companies drive down the costs for gaining a fake online presence, it’s not a big price to pay.

Figueroa is an editorial fellow at AlterNet. She is a recent Ithaca College graduate who double-majored in journalism and politics. Follow her on Twitter @alyssa_fig.

This article was originally published by Alternet. SACSIS cannot authorise its republication.

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