Last week, Twitter cleared out a whole bunch of bots, and some Tweeters found that the grand numbers on their list of followers had plummeted. Plummeted by orders of magnitude. The purge, of course, precipitated a ton of screeching. You’d think that someone would want their followers to be actual human beings, but guess not.
I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about Twitter followers or . followees. I don’t Tweet, and have two followers, which is one less than the numbers of Tweets I’ve made, two on behalf of Christmas in the City, and one an accidental retweet. (The post I retweeted was fine, but it RT’d by accident.) My follow list is mostly pundits, politicians, MSNBC hosts, a few columnists, a couple of organizations I support, and a few (very few) entertainers. I just checked: there’s no one on there that I didn’t put there. So, Larry Tribe and Larry O’Donnell, in case you guys were wondering, I really am a follower and not a bot.
Turns out that, even if someone’s followers are, like me, honest to goodness humans, they may not be true followers in any sense. This I learned from reading a long and detailed article, The Follower Factory, which appeared last month in The New York Times.
All this is thanks to outfits like Devumi, which promises to:
Accelerate Your Social Growth: Quickly gain followers, viewers, likes & more with our bend of marketing tactics.
I actually wouldn’t mind going out on a date if the right guy came along, but mostly I’m not interested in accelerating my social growth. But if I were, and I wanted to buy not earn my following, Devumi would be one place I could turn (that is, if I had neither scruples nor standards, which, when last I looked, I still manage to maintain – at least I think so):
Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers.
Problem is some of these followers are stolen identities, like a kid from Minnesota who has her real FB and Twitter identity as Jessica R, and another one that Devumi has sold in her name, photograph, and bio. That other Jessica:
…promoted accounts hawking Canadian real estate investments, cryptocurrency and a radio station in Ghana. The fake Jessica followed or retweeted accounts using Arabic and Indonesian, languages the real Jessica does not speak. While she was a 17-year-old high school senior, her fake counterpart frequently promoted graphic pornography, retweeting accounts called Squirtamania and Porno Dan.
Fake users on FB and Twitter – and it’s estimated that as many as 60 million FB and 48 million Twitter accounts are ersatz – are the counterfeit coin of the social media realm. They:
…can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations.
People – entertainers, politicians, athletes – pay Devumi and other follower factories as little as a penny a piece for a follower for some very good rea$on$:
Follower counts on social networks help determine who will hire them, how much they are paid for bookings or endorsements, even how potential customers evaluate their businesses or products.
High follower counts are also critical for so-called influencers, a budding market of amateur tastemakers and YouTube stars where advertisers now lavish billions of dollars a year on sponsorship deals. The more people influencers reach, the more money they make.
According to data collected by Captiv8, a company that connects influencers to brands, an influencer with 100,000 followers might earn an average of $2,000 for a promotional tweet, while an influencer with a million followers might earn $20,000…
Several Devumi customers acknowledged that they bought bots because their careers had come to depend, in part, on the appearance of social media influence. “No one will take you seriously if you don’t have a noteworthy presence,” said Jason Schenker, an economist who specializes in economic forecasting and has purchased at least 260,000 followers.
Good God. “No one will take you seriously…” Seriously? The world really is coming to an end.
Even – surprise, surprise – marketing consultants are getting in on the act. One such a-hole, Jeetendr Sehdev bills himself as “the world’s leading celebrity branding authority.” Pardon me for thinking that this honor goes to DJT, but whatever. To help build his brand, Sehdev bought hundreds of thousands of Devumi fake-os.
…in his recent best-selling book, “The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells,” he had a different explanation for his rising follower count. “My social media following exploded,” Mr. Sehdev claimed, because he had discovered the true secret to celebrity influence: “Authenticity is the key.”
While you might say that shamelessness is the true operative word here, authenticity is the key alright. (One of his fake followers, by the way, was the fake version of Jessica R.) Who says you can’t fake authenticity?
Obviously not Devumi, who claims that its address is in Manhattan.
In real life, Devumi is based in a small office suite above a Mexican restaurant in West Palm Beach, Fla., overlooking an alley crowded with Dumpsters and parked cars.
And Devumi’s founder has a fake résumé, too. On LinkedIn, German Calas – like me! – claims to have a degree from dear old Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Only mine is real and his is fake.
Meanwhile, the Devumi’s scammer-in-chief has himself been scammed. An ex-employee supposed stole a list of customer orders and set up a fake version of Devumi. Calas is suing him. Good luck with that!
One thing that’s come out of Calas’s suit is the revelation that:
Devumi doesn’t appear to make its own bots. Instead, the company buys them wholesale — from a thriving global market of fake social media accounts. Scattered around the web is an array of obscure websites where anonymous bot makers around the world connect with retailers like Devumi.
Meanwhile, FB and Twitter are apparently on the case, so far in a more or less half-arsed way. The focus of late has been on the bots aligned with the Russians spreading fake news and fake support for bad ideas and bad people. (Within days after the Parkland killings, the Ministry of Divisiveness was all over the place pushing the meme that the kids who were speaking out so eloquently and passionately about and on behalf of their murdered classmates were “crisis actors”.)
Kind of makes you want to find some mountain top without reception and toss away all your electronics.
But I guess we should look on the bright side: good to know that there are still factory jobs out there…