On the day when Snapchat erased billions of market cap from investors (and founders) accounts - as the MAUs-means-money model seems to break - we thought it worthwhile taking another glimpse into the hush-hush world of 'click-farms' and the fakeness of the latest social network fads.
In 2014, we first exposed the world to the 'click-farm' where nothing is what it seems, and where social networking participants spend millions of dollars to appear more important, followed, prestigious, cool, or generally "liked" than they really are. As we detailed at the time, social networking has been the "it" thing for a while: for the networks it makes perfect sense because they are merely the aggregators and distributors of terrabytes of free, third party created content affording them multi-billion dollar valuations without generating a cent in profits (just think of the upside potential in having 10 times the world's population on any given publicly-traded network), while for users it provides the opportunity to be seen, to be evaluated or "liked" on one's objective, impartial merits and to maybe go "viral", potentially making money in the process. Of course, the biggest draws of social networks also quickly became their biggest weaknesses, and it didn't take long to game the weakest link: that apparent popularity based on the size of one's following or the number of likes, which usually translates into power and/or money, is artificial and can be purchased for a price.
But it is not only sport stars with chips on their shoulder, or fading move and music gods who are willing to dish out in order to get the fake adoration and fake fans: as the AP reports, In 2013, the State Department, which has more than 400,000 likes and was recently most popular in Cairo, said it would stop buying Facebook fans after its inspector general criticized the agency for spending $630,000 to boost the numbers. In one case, its fan tally rose to more than 2.5 million from about 10,000.
Since then there have been crackdowns (self-regulated) and also numerous "advertising metric errors," but still, as recently as March of this year, scientists at USC and Indiana University discovered up to 15% of Twitter accounts could be fake. Since Twitter currently has 319 million monthly active users, that translates to nearly 48 million bot accounts, using USC's high-end estimate. The report goes on to say that complex bots could have shown up as humans in their model, "making even the 15% figure a conservative estimate." At 15 percent, the evaluation is far greater than Twitter's own estimates.
In a filing with the SEC last month, Twitter said that up to 8.5 percent of all active accounts contacted Twitter's servers "…without any discernable additional user-initiated action."
Since that equates to roughly 20 million more bot accounts than Twitter's own assessment, that could be an issue in light of analyst concerns about user growth. In a recent research report, Nomura Instinet analysts wrote that "Twitter's revenue growth has slowed to the mid-single digits, as the platform has struggled to attract new users over the past year…"
The research could be troubling news for Twitter, which has struggled to grow its user base in the face of growing competition from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and others.
So, if they're not human, where do all those "likes," "retweets," and "followers" lighting up your social media accounts from?
Thanks to this Russian gentleman - who visited a Chinese click farm, where they make fake ratings for mobile apps and other things like this - we now know...
Russian man visited Chinese click farm.They make fake ratings for mobile apps and things like this.He said they have 10,000 more phones pic.twitter.com/qE96vgCCsi— English Russia (@EnglishRussia1) May 11, 2017
He said they have 10,000 more phones just like these.
As we concluded previously, the bottom line is simple: "The illusion of a massive following is often just that," said Tony Harris, who does social media marketing for major Hollywood movie firms, said he would love to be able to give his clients massive numbers of Twitter followers and Facebook fans, but buying them from random strangers is not very effective or ethical. And once the prevailing users of social networks grasp that one of the main driving features of the current social networking fad du jour is nothing but a big cash scam operating out of a basement in the far east, expect both Facebook and shortly thereafter, Twitter, to go the way of 6 Degrees, Friendster and MySpace, only this time the bagholders will be the public. Because "it is never different this time." The only certain thing: someone will promptly step in to replace any social network that quietly fades into the sunset.