Friday, 9 February 2018

The Follower Factory.

I didn't know you can sell/buy followers to boost up your social media account. You could actually buy them at S$295 for 25,000 followers. Cheap price for fame online. 

Devumi is one such seller. 

It reports today in a well researched article "The follower factory" that "Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online."

Devumi is no small factory on generating the requisite "followers" on demand. As it stands, it has an estimated stock of 3.5 million automated accounts, and "each sold many times over". 

The company has "provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers," according to some investigation done on Devumi.

The article sums it out well about this level of delusion when it wrote:-

"These accounts are counterfeit coins in the booming economy of online influence, reaching into virtually any industry where a mass audience - or the illusion of it - can be monetised. Fake accounts infest social media networks. By some calculations, as many as 48 million of Twitter's reported active users are automated accounts designed to simulate real people, though the company claims that number is far lower."

Lesson? One, and never underestimate the influence these fake accounts have over the masses in the real world. 

It is estimated that there is at least 60 million automated accounts roaming in cyberspace, and they are called "bots". 

They can "help with advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations."

Currently, there is no law to govern these companies that sell them, or their buyers. So, it seems like Devumi's founder German Calas has a lot of elbow room to move within this maze-like grid of shadowy transactions. 

Although Calas denied that his company sold fake followers, saying "he knew nothing about social identities stolen from real users", it however reports that Devumi has "more than 200,000 customers, including reality television stars, professional athletes, comedians, TED speakers, pastors and models."

Yes, even pastors. 

Some of Devumi's customers are actor John Leguizamo, Dell's Michael Dell and sports star like Ray Lewis and swimsuit model Ms Kathy Ireland. 

The motive of buying bots is clear enough. 

"Several Devumi customers acknowledged that they bought bots because their careers had come to depend, in part, on the appearance of social media influence." 

An economist Mr Jason Schenker said: "No one will take you seriously if you don't have a noteworthy presence." Jason himself has purchased at least 260,000 followers.

One journalist Ankita Varma wrote this: "We live in an online world and it is easy to become perpetually dissatisfied, easily bored and emotionally detached. Our senses now need so much more to be entertained."

Think about the fake restaurant in Dulwich, which ranked no. 1 in November 2017 at Trip Advisor, the sad Chinese stuntman who fell 60 storey from a China skyscraper, and Logan Paul who uploaded video of an attempted suicide while visiting the Aikigahara forest in Japan, which racked up hundreds of thousands of views, and then ask yourself this:-

"Has anything about us changed?"

Alas, looking back from today, I don't think so. 

We have always been looking for and seeking after attention. The only difference is that we have found new ways of monetizing attention on a global basis, and such opportunities have gone viral in cyberspace. 

The other difference is that we have become less authentic and shallower with the advent of social media. It's a matter of degree. 

The internet is no doubt connecting people, yet we still feel lonely. We have thousands of followers, but we want more, much more. It's never enough. 

The internet is making it easy for people to buy, exchange and sell, yet we are still insatiable, and most times, empty because we are hoarding mindlessly without knowing what to do with our purchases.

And the internet is facilitating more interaction, increasing opportunity to make friends and setting up dates to spark that romantic get together, yet we are still fantasizing, looking for that perfect partner even when we are already married, and scouring the globe from the comfort of our private bedroom finding ways and means to be happy.

Alas, most of the time, we are more depressed than ever. But our solution is to click for quick fixes to medicate that mood, listen to some feel-good sermonette online or just chat with strangers half the globe away. 

That chat disguises our true self so that we may play different roles to different strangers we meet in virtual reality in the hope that the distraction can make us forget about addressing what is eating us at the core. 

The real world with real people is the last place we go to to find peace, fulfilment and hope. 

We have thus lost our identity to the internet because we live our lives for attention, and at the same time, giving attention to live vicariously through our online heroes. 

We want to be who we are not, because we do not believe that ourselves are good enough on social media since everyone has such a good (embellished) digital narrative online. 

And everyone who is famous online with million of followers and "Likes" are the benchmark for us to buy, click and consume anything and everything that they have to sell, be it tickets, books, sermons, or personal values. 

Here, I am reminded that Facebook has a corporate philosophy, and it is "to move fast and break things." 

Yet, the mind-bending speed has left many things and lives broken as a result. A trail of empty lives crying to be filled. 

Let me end by saying that, I always believe that had Jesus been alive today, he would still touch lives one soul at a time, for example, with the woman at the well, the man at Bethesda pool, and the woman with the alasbater box. 

It doesn't matter that he is not reaching out to enough people, or getting enough "Likes" or followers. Jesus will still stick to his 12 disciples, by eating and sleeping with them, and teaching them face to face. 

Because I believe enduring transformation comes from such lifetime investment in a life just like marriage, loving your children and nurturing close friendships. It's always one life at a time, and not millions at a sweep. 

That is the only way we can be ourselves, authentic and true. And Jesus brings out the best in us when we are ourselves, and not somebody else. Cheerz.

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