Buying social media friends and followers, wholesale.


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.

 

Eg

 

-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.


More thoughts:  My Financial Times opinion article.   How to live a life, well lived. Thoughts from a dying man.      

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

Farewell, Ursula K Le Guin.

One of my favourite authors, Ursula K Le Guin passed away this week. Amongst many things, she showed me that you have good books and you have bad books, the “genre” of the book doesn’t really matter. So Le Guin is famous for Science Fiction and Fantasy, but mostly I simply treasure her wonderful books.  I posted on her writing craft book here, and her on literature as a manual for life.

 

In her later life, she kept a blog (recent interviews here) which is still a treasure trove and much better than my blog. If only mine could be so rich over time.  If you are a fan of cats, then you should read through her blog as though she didn’t write books in her last years, she wrote extensively about her cat. The Annals of Pard.

“As I see it, writing and the arts (and the sciences, and all learning) don’t play a role in ensuring our freedom; they are our freedom — the heart of it.” — UKL. 30 September 2017.

David Mitchell (of Reasons I Jump fame and father of an ASD child, and more famously a novelist) writes about his encounter with her and her influence.

I leave you with her reply to George Zebrowski, who asked her to blurb an anthology of science fiction that contained precisely no women:

"I cannot imagine myself blurbing a book, the first of the series, which not only contains no writing by women, but the tone of which is so self-contentedly, exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room. That would not be magnanimity, but foolishness. Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here."

And her “A Few Words to a Young Writer”

Socrates said, "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." He wasn't talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.

 

A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.