The high cost of buying followers

Buying social media robot followers. (Andrea Clemett/Lariat)

I started an Instagram account in 2013 and was ecstatic to have a visual diary. The idea of hashtags as a way to get worldwide exposure was intriguing. It began as an artistic expression and then rapidly manifested into something, which may be perceived as fictitious.

I endeavored to capture the best photos, edited them with creative filters and wrote clever hashtags. I sent out representatives of my awesome self with every post, driving my close friends mad, “Does this picture look good or how can this post gain more followers?” Dwelling on social media had become a new addiction.

An article by Molly Soat “Social Media Triggers a Dopamine” illustrates how receiving “likes” can give a person a social rush which triggers a release of dopamine. This is the same brain area that is stimulated when being complimented, being the recipient of an infectious smile or by eating a satisfying meal. Most people can be guilty of deleting posts that received meager gratification or gained extra vibrato when posts attract praise.

It is doubtful that the effects of dopamine would have the same effect if the numbers were bought. The dependency on recognition can lead to a distorted view of one’s self. Focusing on the numbers of followers permits people to focus on posts and not what is happening in real life.

Netflix’s original series Black Mirror episode “Nosedive,” demonstrated the negative effects of social media on a person’s mental wellness. In the show people can rate each other in daily situations in order to reach a social GPA. The overall theme reflects how people exude perfection and the sad lengths people will go in order to receive validation.

At what point do enough followers equate to happiness or self-esteem?  Where does it end? Post to relevant targets, stop obsessing, be authentic and they will come. Currently, the posts with most likes by people I actually know, mean more than the ghosts I will never meet. Being present in activities and with others is more gratifying than capturing moments to showboat on the internet.

Beyond buying followers for an emotional fix, businesses also purchase them for marketing purposes.  Both are intertwined in that they rely on followers and likes in order to fulfill intrinsic needs or ensure financial success.  

In a recent investigation by the New York Times entitled,  “The Follower Factory” companies who sell fake followers such as Devumi are outlined in depth.  “By the calculations as many as 48 million of Twitter’s reported active users, nearly 15 percent, are automated accounts designed to simulate real people, though the company claims that the number is far lower,” the article reveals.

A colleague informed me that my favorite fashion blogger had bought half of her followers. I nearly fell out of my chair upon seeing that she was receiving endorsements from companies for posts. The blogger was receiving complementary products from brands like Gucci and Prada to wear as a result of her popularity.

I unfollowed her and subsequently noticed that many others had unfollowed her as well. My impression was that she was “a queen of phonies” as Holden Caulfield refers to his old classmate in the “Catcher of the Rye.” To my chagrin, athletes, stars and business entrepreneurs were buying followers as well.

Buying followers is a clever shortcut towards a social media platform; however, it is easy to get caught. It can become extremely costly, since buying followers leads to buying likes as well. Imagine having 10,000 followers and 30 likes per post. It can appear suspicious, especially without comments of engagement on posts.

Once one commits to buying followers it is difficult to stop, since it would be obvious when thousands of followers drop off.

In real life, it is frowned upon to have an indiscretion in the workplace for advancement. Perhaps there should be a similar standard in the social world for fictitiously creating demand. Businesses can ultimately delegitimize the skills or products being promoted.

When buying products or services one has to determine whether it is due to an item’s popularity or its merit. It is critical to investigate brands and those who have fake followers. These can usually be seen as porn profiles or odd profiles with one photo in the feed. With practice, astute shoppers will readily be able to discern the imposters.