The online market for fakery

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Pickford_About_UsI wrote a few times over the past few years about the growth in so called crowdturfing, which is basically buying fake followers, likes and so on to inflate ones social media presence.  It first came to my attention back in 2012, with a UC Santa Barbara study revealing it was already worth millions of dollars.

A subsequent study last year by UC Berkeley found that there were around 30 companies selling fake followers on Twitter, with a combined number of fake accounts into the millions.  Whilst they revealed that Twitter was pretty successful at removing the fake accounts, they also said that their study had unearthed just 20% of the total market.

According to the paper, the average cost for a Twitter account is only $0.04. Facebook accounts vary, averaging between $0.45-1.50 per account if it is phone verified, or as low as $0.10 per account without verification. Phone verified Google accounts are about $0.03-0.50 per account; while Hotmail ($0.004-0.03) and Yahoo ($0.006-0.015) accounts are priced way below the norm due to their wide availability.

The issue has reared its head again this week courtesy of an Associated Press investigation into the industry that in addition to fake followers will also provide you with fake LinkedIn followers, YouTube views and all manner of other things.

For instance, the State Department revealed back in 2013 that it had spent $630,000 on boosting the number of likes it had on its Facebook page (400,000 currently), whilst the pages of people such as Leo Messi reveal huge number of ‘fans’ in rather surprising places.

Arguably the most intriguing example however comes from CareerExcuse.com, who for a fee will garnish your CV with any number of fake employers.  This isn’t just a case of making up fake employments however, this goes further than that.

For a small fee, they promise to not only craft an elaborate lie based on your exact job specifications but to see it through for as long as necessary. The site will provide a live HR operator and staged supervisor, along with building and hosting a virtual company website—complete with a local phone number and  toll-free fax. CareerExcuse will even go so far as to make the fake business show up on Google Maps.

So they’ll create an imaginary company, and then provide recruiters with a glowing reference for you from that fake company, all for a fee of around $150.  They are not alone of course, with sites such as The Reference Store offering similar services.

On the web, it seems, fakery knows no bounds.

10 thoughts on “The online market for fakery

  1. I'm not surprised. I mean I see Twitter accounts that are unremarkable, except for the many thousands of followers they have. Can only be bought can't they?

  2. Call me naive, but I still strongly believe you can fool some people sometimes, but you can't fool all the people all the time. Truth comes out eventually, always. If a person is not competent or must revert to fake reviews or resumes, there is surely something missing, which will come to daylight soon enough.

    In some cases, I can see why it might work to buy followers, or fans. For example, an up and coming rock band could do that to get better credibility if it is looking at getting a recording deal. And even then.

  3. That's pretty incredible! An entire fake career backed up by fake websites and references! I have to say that I've never heard of a hoax as elaborate as this one. I agree that online one can certainly never know whether a person has all the credentials they boast of having. It's kind of scary to think especially since we're doing so much of our business online these days and we as online marketers are constantly being approached by businesses all over the globe. Is there a way, I wonder of knowing. like tell-tale signs or what to look for. It would be great if you could do a follow-up post telling us what we should be aware of, what to look for…

    • Interesting idea Gazalla. I suppose from an offline perspective, you can take advantage of interviews, tests, perhaps even dummy assignments in order to understand if they can walk the walk. In an online setting, I suppose all we can do is ask to see as many examples of someones work as possible. The chances of faking it successfully must diminish the greater the body of work. This is especially so on freelance type websites where ratings and reviews are such an important part of the selection process.

  4. Adi, here's the thing I REALLY do not understand – as a fairly well known social strategist, I am constantly having to mitigate clients' expectations and reality check them to see the after effects of buying likes (on Facebook at least). You THEN have to pay to BOOST your posts to "people" (in theory) who have no real interest in you. You're selling to false leads, basically. Thoughts??? This is a tough world for those of us who clearly see that it poisons the end game – it makes my results look FAR worse than a strategist who's out there buying likes to "look good" to their clients. hmmm….

    • Hi Mary, I empathise. If I were in your shoes I would place a whole lot of emphasis on more tangible things. You know? Focus instead on things like new sales or better customer service. Those are things you can't fake AND are more valuable to the company than a bunch of likes. I mean, the only company whose business is getting likes are the fakers, everyone else has real products or services they're trying to sell. That's where you can gain the love from clients, by helping them get proper results.

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