Why it’s important to talk about fake social media followers

We need to have a chat about fake followers, and why they’ve been a negative addition to a positive social media landscape. While fake followers aren’t anything new, there’s recently been a flurry of conversations around it, as reported by the New York Times and the BBC.

Super briefly, here’s an explanation of the different ways people achieve fake followers:

  1. They directly purchase a specific number of accounts to “follow” their social media page from a third party
  2. They directly purchase a specific number of accounts to “like” their social media content from a third party
  3. They do a combination of 1 & 2
  4. They use specialized apps that follow a large number of people, in hopes of receiving a “follow back” from a % – then unfollow those people & repeat (while this isn’t purchasing followers, it’s not the most ethical)

I started making video content on YouTube in January of 2012 when I was in my last year of high school. Do the math: that makes it 6 years on social media. Every time I think of that number, it still amazes me. 6 years. 312 weeks2,190 days. No other hobby or career path has ever lasted that long in my life.

When I first started posting videos online, I just had an itch to create something. Follower counts were cool at most, but not a living necessity. I’ve celebrated at the 1k / 10k / and 100k mark, but that’s about it. The bigger celebrations have been after uploading a video that I was immensely proud of. Some that come to mind are my interviews with HIV+ individuals, my travel to Spain, and my laser hair removal experience. I’m proud to say that whenever I’ve been excited about my career, it’s rooted in the content I’ve made.

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Before we talk about why fake followers are bad, it’s important to understand that the creator space (YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, etc.) has become a pretty big deal. In 2016, Neilson reported that 18+ adults spend about 6-7 hours a week on social media, on average. With that in mind, we need to understand that the attention towards traditional media outlets, such as television, are becoming equally as dispersed as social media.

So what happens when eyeballs shift from a TV network to a YouTube channel? Brands shift, and take their budgets with them. In theory, this is really great for digital creators, because it places a higher monetary value on their “art” (i.e. videos, photography, think pieces, etc.). I’m so proud of the travel content I created in Spain, but none of that would have been possible without Contiki funding my travels. The same goes with my HIV+ interviews – none of that would have been possible without Bell Media providing the studio space.

Before we get into the negatives, let’s figure out why purchasing fake followers may be perceived as positive. Let’s be real: the image of a content creator (or sometimes referred to as influencer) is romanticized. We see content creators being recognized by big name brands, and that might be a dream for someone looking to “make it big.” In their eyes, all they need to do is spend some money on followers, and the rest is roses, right? For anyone out there that’s actually built a following, they know too well that’s far from true.

Now let’s talk about why purchasing fake followers is bad. When a person engages in sourcing inauthentic followers, they’re contributing to a mentality that follower count = value. Let me tell you, if you haven’t been told this before, it doesn’t. Now, someone’s follower count can be an incredible demonstration of their value and quality as a creator. Some creators that come to mind are ASAP Science, David Dobrik, and Casey Neistat. These creators have immense follower counts, but their value is rooted in the quality of their content.

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As a smaller size creator, I’ve always been proud that my audience shows strong engagement – it’s the reason why I wake up every morning and try to create something! When someone purchases fake followers, or racks up a bunch of “follow backs”, they’re going to have low low low engagement. The reasoning for this is obvious, because if your followers are fake, or don’t follow you out of interest, they’re not going to engage. The engagement that’s purchased is purely artificial. As such, fake followers exist as an artificial face to success and quality.

As a Communication Studies major, I have a lot of care for emerging media industries. I’ve always supported the growth of the “creator class” because it gives young people the opportunity to be their own boss. Instead of graduating university and needing to work at a big production company to create valuable content, they can do it themselves. Think about how powerful that can be for a young person; to be able to start their own talk show on YouTube, or display their travel photography on Instagram. Content creation is freedom, and freedom is a very liberating thing.

With that said, inauthentic followers dilute the value of an independent creator to a popularity contest of numbers. Those numbers, by the way, get noticed by brands and agencies, and unknowingly re-route their hard earned budgets to a scam-like practice. On top of that, it creates an illusion that smaller creators with quality content don’t fit in today’s “creator class”, and I think that’s a shame.

So why should YOU care about whether or not you follow an account that has fake followers? Here’s why: if you’re following them, they’re probably not too concerned with your entertainment, but rather with popularity and making a quick buck. If someone is buying fake followers, they want to leverage those metrics towards brands that will sponsor their content. Sponsorship isn’t the bad bone here, because most creators engage in some level of sponsorship (myself included!). However, the purpose of sponsorship should always be to allow creators to continue to create their quality, organic content. I think that’s a concept that most people can get behind.

In order for the “creator class” to prosper, there can’t be a way for people to cheat their way to the top (or rather, their view of the top). I want independent creators to succeed, because I’ve seen some of the most original and entertaining content from platforms like YouTube and Instagram – and I know you have too! But let’s not ruin it with people who only care about popularity and a quick buck. You & your 6-7 hours a week on social media deserve a lot better than that.

Remember: numbers ≠ success.

-MR

PS- Neilson, you crazy. I spend WAY more than 7 hours a week on social media… 🙂

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6 Comments

  1. 7 hours a week on social media? I concur with you; the number of hours seems to be underestimated.

    Fake followers is a phenomenon that I did not know existed. However, I do see a number of YouTube videos the content of which is half to two-thirds commercial presentations on behalf of a sponsored product.

    And, thanks for being an independent creator–you have the gift of communication.

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    1. I think the 6-7 hours a week is definitely underestimated. That, or their sample size wasn’t the best. Either way, 6-7 hours is still powerful. In regards to sponsored content, the content HAS TO BE ENTERTAINING beyond the sponsorship. As long as it’s GOOD content, I don’t care if it’s sponsored. But that’s my 2 cents. 🙂

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  2. I’m glad I found this post, because I’ve seen a surge of people buying fake followers & it does become a problem, as it’s not organic growth. You’d want people to follow you because of your content as it shows they really like it. Thanks for posting this ☺️

    Like

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