This is a dark art. It raises many questions, but (what should have been unsurprising) is how the market has developed. The NY Times has an investigation.
“Manufacturers” create Twitter bots. These come in high-quality from, usually copied from an inactive Twitter account (but sometime an active one), with a copied picture and ID. There are also low-quality bots which do not copy a real-life person and are super easy to spot.
These are wholesalers (eg Peakerr) and some are not available to individuals only “retailers”.
The NY Times exposed one such retailer Devumi, which has a large number of celebrity and political clients.
These bots can then be used to amplify your message or any message (realnews or fakenews), or denigrate other messages.
While, the bots will not likely create “true engagement” so not likely to help sell a product directly. They can be very good at pushing an agenda indirectly.
-follower count is used to gain influencer contracts with real brands
-a useful promotion (eg Go Out and Vote) is targeted only at a certain segment (eg target only >65s will skew the Brexit vote)
-obscuring realnews with fakenews
There is also evidence that many advertising clicks (eg FB) are going to bots and not real accounts resulting in real advertising money being lost.
While Twitter is more open to bots (less checks), IG, FB and LI can all have bots as well. Or even multiple simply fake accounts maintained by real human agents.
Or, simply those who can use the data more sophisticatedly. Eg a right wing org can try and discourage young voters from bothering to vote, while a left wing org should be targeting its ad spending on the under 25 group.
Imagine if the UK Remain group had spent £1m on FB adverts to under 25s encouraging them to vote with a good advert. The under 25 turnout was <35% vs the >65s with a >80% turnout.
Is that weaponising democracy? Certainly it seems like savvy agents for various governments and other organisations were more savvy than the platforms themselves, and on the the face of it, continue to do so.
If you'd like to feel inspired by commencement addresses and life lessons try: Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; or JK Rowling on the benefits of failure. Or Charlie Munger on always inverting; Sheryl Sandberg on grief, resilience and gratitude or investor Ray Dalio on on Principles.
Cross fertilise. Read about the autistic mind here.