A flock of followers is easy to fake

A flock of followers is easy to fake

Two weeks ago, a friend who runs a part-time dessert catering business told me a disturbing, if not familiar, story.

A young blogger had approached her and asked her to sponsor his upcoming 21st birthday party. In return for her lovely macaroons and delicious lemon tarts, the Birthday Boy promised her $800 worth of exposure.

Ignoring the self-entitled attitude that somehow equates publicity with a free meal, she looked up this puffed-up self-promoter on Instagram and saw he was peddling food pictures alongside selfies.

She turned him down, but not before finding out that he had also pitched the same "deal" to another friend of ours, who runs an artisanal cake business.

When that baker also turned him down, his response was that it was her loss, as other brands, more well-known than hers, had already signed up to cater for his party.

We joked about the current state of things, where some bloggers with free time on their hands feel entitled to solicit freebies and get upset when business people have the nerve - and the good sense - to spurn them.

A typical proposal might go like this. The blogger would say: "Give me a free meal at a restaurant or a free stay at a hotel. In exchange, I will post pictures of your food/hotel on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook."

My friends and I laughed at these stories and they were all but forgotten, until last week, when the great Instagram purge took place.

The photo-sharing social network culled spam accounts, otherwise known as fake accounts, which had been created in part to inflate the number of Instagram followers that some users were reporting.


No one was spared in the global purge. Singer Justin Bieber lost 3.5 million followers, while reality star Kim Kardashian lost 1.3 million. Singer Akon lost more than half of his 4.3 million followers and was left with a mere 1.9 million.

Rapper Ma$e lost 1.5 million followers overnight and chose to delete his account, rather than connect with the remaining 100,000 followers.

Singapore bloggers were not spared. Popular ones such as Wendy Cheng, a.k.a. Xiaxue, lost 30,000 followers overnight (about 5 per cent), while Dawn Yang saw her Instagram numbers slide by 21,000 (about 25 per cent).

As for Birthday Boy, the blogger who approached my friends, his 4,400 following was slashed to 2,400.

In the digital world of social networking, everyone needs a new and concrete gauge for measuring success. This has opened up fresh avenues for some to try gaming the system to boost their numbers.

On Twitter, the most brazen will offer to sell you "followers". The less obvious ones ask for - or expect- a follow back when they start following you.

On Facebook, Page managers for brands are attempting to find new ways to engage followers with contests and viral posts. While some hate them, they have proven effective at times. I know that as I manage Digital Life's Facebook page.

There have long been calls to Facebook and Twitter to cull the fake accounts. Instagram's move, while angering those who are trying to con the system, is much appreciated.

But it cannot be a one-time cull. The policing has to be done continuously or at least periodically.

On Sunday night, Birthday Boy's Instagram account reported an incredible surge and now has 5,000 followers. At this rate, he could rack up 250,000 followers in under three months.

If anyone knows how he is managing to grow his following so quickly, legitimately, please share the information with me.

I will even throw in a free meal.


This article was first published on Dec 24, 2014.
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