Buy friends online

Buy friends online
Photo: Shutterstock

Friendship is cheap, I recently discovered.

This week, in one day, I bought more than 1,500 friends on Facebook ($3) and 15,000 followers on Twitter ($14).

More than 4,200 people "liked" a photo I posted on Instagram ($11) and another 2,000 people "liked" my silly petition on Facebook calling on the late American singer Elvis Presley to have a concert in Singapore ($2).

The total price of such instant popularity: $30.

Welcome to the murky world of social networking, where practically anything can be bought - friends, followers, subscribers, "likes", page views, even comments and retweets.

Besides Facebook and Twitter, it is happening on video-sharing platforms YouTube and Vine, and virtual mood board Pinterest too.

Two months ago, the winner of an online contest in Singapore involving Facebook "likes" admitted to trading currency from online game MapleStory for "likes".

He said he won the MapleStory items on his own merit and did not use money to purchase "likes".

The contest organisers, restaurant chain Poulet, let him keep the prize, which was a trip to Paris for two people..

But websites such as Swenzy, Social Yup and Seoclerks feature companies and individuals eagerly offering fake supporters for cash.

Internet security experts say the fake support comes from bots, which is short for "robots".

These are software applications programmed to run automated tasks in the background.

While they have been around for as long as computers and were previously used to generate spam and capture usernames and passwords, their more recent uses include generating fake social media profiles and likes.

Says Mr Chai Chin Loon, 50, chief operating officer of Assurity Trusted Solutions, an IT security firm: "Modern bots are generally good at emulating human interactions.

"With greater computational power, bots are able to process greater amount of data in order to make themselves more 'human-like'."

Indeed, some of my fake friends have profile photos and real-sounding names. Their profiles also listed their jobs and the universities they graduated from.

They behave like human beings, they share photos, write comments and invite me to play Candy Crush.

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