‘Money,’ in July 1964 and according to Lennon and McCartney, ‘Can’t buy love.’
Even today, no amount of money can purchase real and lasting love, nor genuine friendship, nor respect, nor morals, nor basic good manners or common decency.
What it can create, however, is a ready-made online persona, equipped with not only a well established identity, but also an imposing presence that can be difficult to ignore.
If there are people, who for any number of reasons, need to appear to the naive and in some cases vulnerable Internet user, to be popular, knowledgable and more importantly, entirely trustworthy, it can be achieved with very little effort, and of course, some ready cash.
Within minutes of the identity being set up in some cases.
How is that possible ?
And for what reason would anybody do this ?
Well, it appears to be easy enough to buy any number of Twitter followers, likewise establish thousands of website and blog hits and also generate an almost unlimited number of Facebook likes and shares.
All available with a simple payment, to any of the Internet ‘Brokers,’ who have recently emerged to cash in on the stratospheric rise of social networking over the last few years.
From major celebrities to private individuals, global corporations to small startup companies, these methods are being used more and more to establish and expand their online presence.
This appetite to appear as popular as possible in the shortest time, is prevalent on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and has in turn, spawned an entire industry based solely upon advertising and selling ‘likes,’ ‘hits’ and ‘followers’.
These schemes are made possible by utilising what are known as ‘click farms’, where low-paid workers in poor countries are paid to repeatedly click the Facebook ‘like’ button, view YouTube videos or follow Twitter accounts and retweet specific links, to promote a product or a cause.
Politicians are among the biggest customers of these types of service, as it has been revealed that the US State Department has spent more than £350,000 on boosting its Facebook contingent.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as notable others in Parliamentary positions, have also come under scrutiny, for using public money to ‘enhance’ and falsely portray their ‘popularity.’
Analysts have gathered data that has shown as many as 45% and 39% of Barack Obama and Lady Gaga’s Twitter followers are bogus, although there has been no suggestion any of those ‘followers’ have been bought.
For anyone wanting to boost their online presence by gaining supporters quickly, they would find it difficult not to locate any number of eager sellers.
A cursory internet search should prove sufficient to reveal masses of websites, offering to boost anyone’s social media, or Internet presence for a flat fee, ranging from a few pounds to many hundreds.
British-based MoveSocial.co.uk offers packages of Facebook likes starting at 500 for £9.99 rising all the way to 100,000 for £749.99.
Its website reassures the customer, the likes are real and “gained using their in-house network and system”.
One Dhaka-based website claims to provide a ‘crowd-sourcing’ platform to help customers ‘improve their social media presence’.
The Website states: “Do you need Facebook fans, likes, followers, event joiners or sharers? We made it as simple as mouse-clicking. Whenever and wherever you need massive workforce to complete petty tasks, call and get it done like magic!”
Experts have said the trade is thriving.
Richard Baxter, chief executive officer of SEOGadget.com, said: “Unfortunately, we suspect it’s a huge business.”
One study estimated that sales of fake Twitter followers could reach £220m, while the financial benefits of selling bogus Facebook likes may be in excess of £120m.
Certain agencies can even cater for a particular taste, like buying likes and followers specifically made up of American girls, aged from 17 to 20-years-old, positively gushing with fake praise and leaving positive comments about a certain product or service.
So it appears that almost anything is achievable online, for a price.
Putting the generation of business aspect aside, there are other reasons why people and organisations may use this method.
Some charities for instance, who need to boost their credibility and appear to be the most deserving of the public’s hard-earned cash, can purchase likes and positive comments, thanking them profusely for their ‘professional and essential’ service.
But, there is a flip side.
There always is.
There are an increasing number of ‘organisations’ and indeed people, setting themselves up as counsellors and advocates of victims of physical and sexual abuse, who are both unqualified and are probably operating under false pretences.
Many survivors of historic child abuse, to use only one example, are turning to the Internet in order to give themselves a voice after many years of being either afraid or prevented from speaking out.
Many of these survivors naturally gravitate towards other survivors and advocates, especially those who have many ‘followers’ and a commanding Internet presence that appears on the surface to be, both genuine and comes highly recommended.
After all, their profiles speak for themselves, with glowing testimonials among the comments from hundreds of survivors, they appear to have helped.
A Twitter profile with thousands of followers can’t be dodgy in any way can it ?
If the truth is told, many people who are shopping for a product or service, look no further than what they see on the packet, and will buy on the strength of that alone, regardless of what the ingredients contain.
And many would not dare question anybody with such an imposing Internet presence I shouldn’t think.
A Facebook page with thousands of ‘Friends’ and ‘likes’ has got to be the real deal don’t you think ?
Blogs with hundreds of thousands, even millions of hits, and hundreds of praiseworthy and supportive comments should be a safe place to share their stories, because after all, it states on the main page that the web administrator always put the survivors first, and they appear to be supported by well-known charities who even have a ‘Donate’ button in a prominent position.
Who could fail to feel safe, sharing the most intimate details with an ‘Online Journalist,’ or abuse ‘Campaigner’ or ‘Award Winning Filmmaker’, even though they conveniently fail to mention what type of award that was actually bestowed on them ?
After all, they have thousands of Internet likes, shares, followers and dozens of survivor testimonies, right there on their websites, to reassure even the most suspicious, nervous and vulnerable of survivors.
Are they a registered Charity ?
What is done with the information shared, where is it stored, and who else has access to it ?
Do they have an office ?
Is there even a telephone number where you can talk to an actual person ?
Despite the lack of any of all these most basic details, many people are still fully prepared to trust them, and with the most intimate and personal details, simply on the strength of the amount of followers they have.
I believe the fictional Rattenfänger von Hameln, the Rat-Catcher, or Pied Piper of Hamelin, used a similar approach, on the Townspeople who failed to honour their obligation.
‘Twitter have claimed that false, bogus or spam accounts make up less than 5% of its total active users. According to the Twitter terms and conditions, the buying and selling of followers is banned, with culprits facing suspension if caught.’
NOTE: There are distinct ways of identifying these bogus and fake accounts, which I will be outlining in a later article on the Outlaw.