Manufacturing social media frenzy

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The next time you want to react or feel deeply about a post, be aware of fake faceless peer accounts playing their game.

News spread through social media is more tenable these days. Viral posts, online bashing, online visibility, and trending hashtags have more sensory acceptance than what they show on TV channels.

It is obvious that our evils in the virtual world are embodied from our behaviors in the real world. If strangers can congregate to witness a roadside quarrel in order to indulge in sadistic entertainment, the same is manifesting in the digital world. However, there is a twist: online viewers are fueled by the action “intentionally” and they end up absorbing “the perceptions propagated” as the truth.

This era of exciting trending hashtags, viral videos, influencers, unlimited availability of information, and individual empowerment rocks our lives with its prodigious momentum every day. Do we even want to notice the ingredients used in the recipe for this sensory indulgence?

As optimistic societies had always thrived on the game of superficial pleasures of showing off their jewelry, handbags, designer clothes and foreign travel, ego-stroking was taken to another level by new riches with the display of their online presence.

Along with affluent people seeking validation online, we have a burgeoning industry of influencers who are self-proclaimed symbols of fashion, lifestyle, and societal norms.

This influence has been a power since the dawn of civilization that has allowed anyone to rise to the political top. Don’t underestimate it as mere validation by their millions of followers, but they have serious finances around their brand value. A micro influencer with 10,000 followers can easily get 10-20,000 rupees for a post and mega influencers can get lakhs.

Smart Retail Corporations now has a marketing strategy to pay influencers that are springing up in every nook and cranny of the society who could advertise their products in their own unique style to their followers. Paying influencers is more effective than running a primetime TV ad or giving out a newspaper ad. Just to highlight, according to Financial Express, the influencer marketing industry in India was estimated at Rs 900 crore by the end of 2021.

Whenever there is a financial turnover, it comes with its sister industries and strategies. For influencers, these are their digital PR agencies. So, if influencers are gaining money and power in society, they constantly have to pay back-end teams to maintain and uproot their social media handles.

It is evident that the brand value of influencers is identified by their number of followers and their post engagements. Most successful influencers hire digital PR agencies to ensure they stay upbeat in their game. If you want to invest in your brand online, hire an agency, most of them offer packages for getting you followed, high post engagements and sometimes, packages to make your posts go viral. Any idea, how much is the digital PR industry worth? According to the Statistica website, the digital marketing industry in India is Rs 292,000 crore.

Here comes the fabrication part, many popular websites such as Forbes and PRWEEK have research articles that almost any influencer can have fake followers causing inflation fraud. Instagram is one such platform where a single user can create multiple accounts and even if the fake accounts or alternate accounts are reported multiple times, the platform takes forever to delete the accounts. Just simply google to buy instagram followers and unlimited digital PR agencies would be available. Looking at what’s out there, it’s no exaggeration to think that these digital PR and social media platforms could be the hand and glove that runs the Digital Influencing Show.

These fake accounts operated by humans or bots also increase the valuation of social media platforms. Here, the “network effect doctrine” is key. The value of utility services provided by any platform increases when the number of people using the platform increases. Therefore, it is not surprising that if TwitterAudithead states that Twitter is a place largely haunted by fake profiles which could be a huge number like 40-50% at any given time and that explains why Twitter is such a place. Not just Twitter and Instagram, reports across the internet are alarming for every giant social media platform.

For the sake of sanctity and legal integrity, these fake accounts have a shorter life cycle as below:

Fake account creation by human or bot -> Increase customer following -> Increase customer Likes/retweet/views -> Post stories according to customer story -> Get caught by machine learning engine /artificial intelligence from one platform or being flagged by many accounts -> Get Deleted -> Snooze.

As we can see from the above steps, the removal of the fake profile is done by almost all the platforms and they also report it. Facebook reportedly deleted 1.3 billion fake accounts between October and December 2020.

Let’s take a look at the possible overhead of allowing fake accounts on any platform.

Database storage costs and operational costs of additional fake accounts that could have been avoided by not authorizing them.

Expensive deployment of machine learning and artificial intelligence to verify fake accounts.

Human resource costs to monitor the automated fake account removal process.

HR costs to implement manually reported fake account removal.

Advertising costs wasted on fake accounts.

The above costs are huge and could have been simply avoided by a verification or a KYC-like module at the time of account creation. But then, why wouldn’t the super-smart management of the social media giants decide to do this, just to reduce those overheads, if ethical reasons are of little consideration?

Could it be because digital PR agencies and social media platforms form a single team to increase the monetary turnover of the industry? Could it be because the social media giants want to inflate revenue through online advertising, which is inflated due to fake accounts? Could it be because social media platforms want to increase their “network effect” by allowing inflation fraud to their user base, thus amplifying the exchanges of online interactions which, if carried out by real people, would have been far too less, non-abusive, non-triggered, non-targeted and limited to the tiny level of communication of the individual. If we imagine Twitter without fake profiles, it would be extremely boring with hardly any trouble trending hashtags except on rare occasions.

Fake accounts not only spice up any platform, but also spin the money, and hence appear as a necessary frill. In today’s world, if you need to express yourself on social media, digital storytelling is an available package with a price.

If this awareness deepens, it can hit your ethical fabric, but regardless, we can neither retreat from it nor live in denial of the kind of system we digitally breathe.

The next time you want to react or feel deeply about a post, be aware of fake faceless accounts of your peers playing their game. This is just work, so you shouldn’t take anything personal with you. Always remember that posts of praise or humiliation from someone can be the result of the tedious work of the PR industry, waiting to grab your senses and entangle you.

Be careful, it may be fake, only you make it real by engaging with it.

(The author is a cybersecurity expert. Opinions expressed are personal.)

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