About five years ago, when I started tweeting on the microblogging site Twitter, I found to my annoyance that there were “bots” that followed me. These are pieces of software that attach themselves to your feed. Some are hosted by pranksters. Some throw up links for you to click on, for viral promotions, and some track you based on some keyword that is of interest to the bot creators.
After a while, I was amused because these bots added to my number of followers, adding to a false sense of importance.
There is a serious business in artificially inflating the social media responses. Digital marketing agencies are often measured by the number of “Likes” they generate on a product or company fan page. This, like the TRP (television rating point) game on TV, is a dubious measure of popularity.
Last weekend a news report stated that a fake fan on Instagram (the picture sharing site) can be worth five times more than a credit card number that has been stolen. Apparently hackers are using their geeky skills to fake “followers” and “Likes” to make people appear more popular than they are. What’s more, these “Likes” are sold in batches of 1,000. In fact, I got a Twitter alert from a service that promises these. One thousand Instagram followers sell for $15 (about R 1,000).
In any business, be it political elections, TV viewing or social media, there is always someone out there to play the game of numbers the wrong way.
In “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business” co-authored by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, there are recurring references to abuse of technology — and an ironic conclusion that countering them will create new businesses. Social media seems to be the latest in the double-edged game.