I don’t post on Twitter, and “follow” only Richard’s Twitter feed and perhaps one or two more. Twitter is always asking me to follow more people and offering up suggestions about who I might find interesting, but I always delete the suggestions. I don’t have time to “follow” the tweeted musings of dozens of people, and figure I’d spend more time deleting notices of their tweets than actually reading them.
So the statistics that purport to show that tens or hundreds of thousands of people follow the Twitter feed of random celebrities or unknown people whose shtick is simply to react to other social media posts, for example, or that Facebook posts have received thousands of “likes,” astonish me. I shake my head and wonder: How can so many people find time in their days to look at the detritus of social media?
The answer is: maybe they can’t, and actually don’t. And maybe the impressive statistics that supposedly show that they do are filled with fake followers, and fake likes, from fake people.
The New York Times ran an interesting article over the weekend called “The Follower Factory” about how entrepreneurs, governments, and criminals have created entire legions of fakery. Some companies have created thousands of fake, automated accounts and sell them to celebrities and businesses that crave followers and retweets to appear more popular on-line. Facebook recently disclosed that 60 million fake accounts have populated its site, distributing likes and affecting “trend lines” and influencing advertising content. Twitter and other social media platforms also are affected by fake accounts. And when part of the power of social media platforms comes from their claims to have millions of people participating in their platforms, how aggressive and effective are the social media sites themselves going to be in policing the fakery?
The Times story quotes politicians who suggest that perhaps the answer to this is to come up with some kind of government regulatory scheme. To be sure, the government should become involved if the fake accounts cross the line into identity theft. But short of that, why should the government intervene if some pathetic former pro athlete wants to buy fake followers to puff up his social media profile? And if the gullible are going to agree with a tweet because the tweeter has lots of fake followers, rather than because of the substance of the opinion expressed, or advertisers are going to accept fake statistics rather than insist on data that can be verified as reflecting the actions of real people, it seems like that is their own problem. The government has bigger, more important, more concrete things to worry about.
We’d all be better off if people stopped paying attention to followers, and trend lines, and likes, and started to actually think things through themselves.