Fake Famous, the HBO Original Documentary, uncovers how an actress, a fashion designer and a real-estate assistant attempt to become social-media influencers by purchasing fake followers and bots to boost their popularity. The about-90-minute-long documentary mocks influencers as it shows how they shape our culture and perceptions of ourselves.
The defamatory nature of the documentary has sparked a huge social media outrage, with some calling it even condescending. Controversially, the makers had apparently not sought permission from influencers used as examples in the documentary, before their data was used.
The whole scenario begets the pressing moral question about who’s at fault: is it the influencers who establish a fake image online to attain a popular social-media presence? Or is it the documentary makers who allegedly projected these influencers in a wrong light?
Social media fault lines
Hyderabad-based Y. Kiran Chandra, General Secretary, Free Software Movement of India, articulates that influencers falling for fake followers to fake an image for online popularity are nothing but puppets baited by the business module of corporates such as Facebook and Instagram, which buy and sell followers. “As I see it, the social-media business module is more at fault than the people who buy followers,” states Kiran, emphasising that the morality of the business module that allows for a trade of fake followers and likes and deliberately letting the trend thrive needs to be questioned.
Furthering his argument, Kiran points out that the Internet itself has several algorithms to filter out fake followers. “When a third-party algorithm can do such segregations, corporations such as Facebook or Instagram have access to much more sophisticated algorithms for similar filtrations,” Kiran elaborates. “But they don’t do it precisely because that’s the core of their business module. Both Facebook and Instagram have a system that enables people to pay to increase their likes and followers on their posts, with no transparency in finding out if these likes and followers are real. So to me, the moral fault lies with the corporations that run on this trade.”
Content matters for real influencers
Sneha Polapragada, another Hyderabad-based professional who’s a content creator and social media influencer, believes everything on social media revolves around numbers. Emphasising her point, she adds, “Most people are solely focused on increasing the numbers of their followers, likes, etc. So while there’re those who take the effort to authentically increase these numbers by working on their content, almost every second profile on social media, unfortunately, indulges in the scam of purchasing BOT accounts to look popular.”
She admits that audiences get swayed by the opinions of influencers considered experts in their respective domains, but she is clear that the power of content matters. “It takes a lot of time and effort to create content,” articulates Sneha, who nevertheless also believes there is no point in creating content when one cannot actually influence a real audience. “Therefore, these influencers with fake followers reap no real results despite spending money and energy on buying followers and creating content.”
Clearly, according to Sneha, to stay relevant online and to create a niche audience for oneself, one must be real and authentic with both one’s content and followers.
Quite differently from Sneha’s thoughts, Mrs Universe 2017 and fitness and fashion influencer Abhimanika Yadav likes to believe that real influencers don’t fake anything and that audiences are the best judge of whom they choose to follow.
“I don’t agree with the prefix ‘fake’ before ‘famous’ in the documentary’s title as there are influencers who put up what’s real and their content helps their followers to gain knowledge, stay updated about the latest technologies and fashion and get entertained,” elaborates Abhimanika. “In fact, I don’t think any influencer fakes stuff. They simply put up content that they believe in and have created with a lot of effort, time and energy. They brainstorm and come up with ideas to make their content look interesting and then they add various props and elements to make it attractive.”
As you reap, so you sow
Fashion and lifestyle blogger and influencer Esha Hindocha shares her thoughts on how influencers fall into the scam of fake followers. “When people start their influencing journey, they’ve really determined that it will work for them,” says Esha. “It seems like an attractive profession because it looks comparatively easy to earn money on this platform, without either much education or investment. But once you start creating content and uploading it, only then you begin to understand how difficult it is out there to stand out among tons of influencers creating mind-blowing content. Receiving a good fan following is not an easy task as there’s so much content out there that for people to stop by your page, there has to be something really strong and dynamic about yours. But that indirect and unseen competition might also lead to new creators losing confidence and falling into these fake followers and like scams.”
Despite what leads them into purchasing their likes and followers, fake influencers, according to Esha, do not survive on the platform “If you project something you’re not, that game won’t go on for long because at some point, you’ll run out of content,” adds Esha. “I think people who take influencing seriously know the repercussions of doing these things and will stay away from them. For those still doing it just for the numbers, it doesn’t really matter because the engagement rate is like a clear statement of their work. The quality of comments and likes and the quality of their work are equally proportional. The bottom line is you’ll be judged by your content and not the numbers. So, such malpractices won’t take you far, and ironically in this business, there’s no getting away… you just reap what you sow.”