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What Bilton finds is that two of the three people he picked felt completely uncomfortable with the fake followers and likes, and one of them just wanted to be their authentic selves online. But one of them really ended up making the fake followers and fake photo shoots work. You can guess who that is by seeing their profiles (linked under their names above).
For the film -- his first -- Bilton attempts to turn Druckman and two other LA residents with relatively small Instagram followings into social media influencers by purchasing an army of fake followers and bots to \"engage\" with their posts. The three were chosen from around 4,000 people who responded to a casting call asking one simple question: \"Do you want to be famous\"
On some level, most of us understand that social media presents carefully curated versions of other people's realities and that influencers' living rooms aren't always bathed in the perfect sunlight. Last year, for example, Instagram influencer Natalia Taylor faked a Bali vacation with pics snapped at Ikea to remind her followers not to believe everything they see. And who could forget the disastrous Fyre Festival hyped by the influencer crowd
But Bilton, formerly of The New York Times and now a correspondent for Vanity Fair, turns his unflinching reporter's eye more broadly and methodically to this bizarre influencer world where followers, likes and comments function as a cultural currency. In doing so, he exposes just how fake that world can get. Spoiler alert: very.
As Bilton hops on his phone to buy thousands more bots for his stars, we see that purchasing fake followers is as simple and quick as downloading an app. In one of the film's more amusing scenes, Bilton's wife, lying next to him in bed, asks when he's going to sleep. \"Just buying some bots, give me a second,\" he answers. You can even choose your bots' gender, nationality and political leaning.
But the faking doesn't stop with imaginary Instagram friends. It's possible, we learn, to fake bids on eBay listings, fake sales of books and fake reviews of movies. And we see once again, as Natalia Taylor's Ikea photo shoot proved, how hard it can be for followers to delineate real from staged. Pro tip I got from Fake Famous: Hold a toilet seat next to an image of a beach and you've got a convincing shot of you looking out an airplane window as you land for your dream island vacation.
The more glamour shots Druckman posts, the more free jewelry she gets from companies eager to see their products promoted. A fake post about working out at a fancy private gym gets Fake Famous subject Chris Bailey, a budding fashion designer, a real session at a fancy private gym in exchange for posting about the business.
But is all the fakery just P.T. Barnum for the 21st century Or will the digital deception have some lasting impact on our understanding of truth Maybe Fake Famous 2 can tackle those questions. I'd totally follow that.
Nick Bilton's HBO documentary Fake Famous paints quite the definitive indictment of anyone calling themselves an \"influencer.\" For the film, Bilton and his team took a random person and bought her fake followers, likes and comments to see if brands would think she's influential. Fake Famous certainly exposes fraud and deception, but more so in Bilton's technique than his subject's resulting web-celebrity status.
Perhaps more insidious an offense is faked engagement. Having bot accounts load a post with likes and comments affects an influencer's engagement rate. The higher that number, the more of their alleged followers are taking real action when they post. So someone with 100,000 followers and a 2.5% engagement rate reportedly activates 2,500 people at a time.
Bilton's film shows one such tool that isn't identified (but, based on my familiarity with such tools, appears to be HypeAuditor). His scan of Druckman's account showed almost 100,000 real and engaged followers at a time when he knew all but 1,200 were bought and paid for. As of last week, it still reported her quality score of 65 out of 100 with her now 348,712 followers. If Bilton's experiment numbers are true, that's a \"Good\" audience quality score when more than 70% of her followers are fake.
No interviews were presented with agency strategists who build campaigns with brands or work hand-in-hand with influencers to execute them. At least none not working in the beauty space or Los Angeles. Bilton not only didn't highlight those who built true influence through amazing content and community engagement, but implied several of them were just as fake as Druckman.
The second problem is the film's use of \"all,\" \"most\" and \"the majority\" when referring to the percentage of influencers who fake their way to making a living doing this. Those labels without data to back them up are grossly misleading. The world of influencers does include the fake or superficial ones (I refer to them as the \"peace sign, duck lips\" crowd), but it also includes millions of content creators like Goodwin who have built engaged followings because they provide value to their audiences.
The movie reported there are 140 million people on Instagram who have over 100,000 followers. When I posed my assertion that most of them aren't fakers gaming the system during our podcast conversation, Bilton pushed back. \"There's 130 million of them that have cooking shows and things like that to give back to society\" he asked. \"No, most of them don't. Most of them are not doing things that are helping people. They're just trying to get free stuff.\"
\"There are millions of fake, duplicate and bot accounts on various social media platforms,\" Smith says. \"Influencer fraud is an industry issue. However, there is a distinction between creators who enter this market to scam, and full-time career creators who are committed to professional standards and business ethics.\"
However, Tagger CEO Dave Dickman told me that 57% of all influencer accounts had purchased either fake followers, fake engagements or both. \"Bots are good at superficially disguising themselves, but there are patterns bot farms are not able to disguise when examined using AI and clustering analysis,\" he says. \"From our work using this data over the last couple of years, we've learned that there can be fake followers in accounts of any size, and in any genre. Though the influencers with between 50,000 and two million followers tend to have the highest percentages of fake followers.\"
It is certainly possible for both data sets to be correct, since they are measuring apples and oranges. Julius is measuring a broad audience health score based on an algorithm. The lower the score, the more likelihood the audience has some issues. Tagger says 57% of all users have purchased fake something, but doesn't indicate what percentage of each influencer's audience is fake, nor how many they purchased. So, if Tagger's 57% of all influencers bought just 10 followers each, they could still have Julius's Audience Health Score of 80 or above.
However, you are completely wrong. Many of those extravagant realties, those followers, those likes and that lifestyle is completely fake, a total hoax. That's what I learned from talking to Nick Bilton this week on \"Salon Talks\" about new HBO documentary \"Fake Famous.\"
The veteran journalist and first-time director captures the rise of fake, curated realties online and influencer culture in the film. In \"Fake Famous,\" Bilton conducts a social experiment where he selects three aspiring, wannabe celebrities with small social media followings and attempts to transform them into big time Instagram influencers with the same kind of fake vacations, fake followers and fake likes you see when you scroll. The end result of this experiment is mind-blowing and even pushed Bilton's own skeptical views of social media's detrimental effects to a new level.
You can watch my \"Salon Talks\" episode with Bilton here, or read a Q&A of our conversation below for more on the internet's effect on culture and society today, why the classification of fame today is largely BS, and how he is raising his kids in a world where fake realities reign supreme.
And then at the same time, you have this culture where, which we talk about in the film, where 87% of kids today in America want to be famous influencers, right That is what they want to be more than any other occupation on earth. And as we show in the film, that whole thing is bulls**t. It's just made up. It's not real. And you have millions and millions of people that are pretending that they are famous and lying about how many followers they have, and the influence they have, and so on. And the effect it's having on culture and society I think is pretty bad.
Just to give the viewers a little taste of how we got here, when we started the film we didn't really know who we were going to pick and how we were going to find people to turn into fake famous influencers. We did a casting call and we decide, okay, let's just ask the very simple question of, \"Do you want to be famous\" And that was literally what we said in the casting call. If you want to be famous, show up to the spot at this time. We had 5,000 people respond instantly.
We didn't put it on social media or anything, we just sent out a casting call. We narrowed that down to 250 people and then we had to get it down to two. We ended up getting it down to three people because we really liked three of the people in there. And then the goal was, okay, let's take these three people who have a thousand followers or so each, and see if we can buy them fake bots, and fake likes, and fake followers, and fake comments, and doing fake photo shoots, see if we can make them appear famous and have their lives changed.
And so I'm not going to give away what happens to all of them, but one of them, it works out. She becomes a famous influencer. She's got 350,000 followers now and she gets tons of free stuff. And I think that as you see in the film