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Buying friends: The business of fake social media accounts

Actress Lindsay Lohan was reportedly paid $3,500 for posting a single tweet on behalf of a company, CBS News reported. Oscar winner Jared Leto garnered an astounding $13,000 for one sponsored tweet, reports The Huffington Post.

The more social media followers a user has, the more attractive they can be to companies who are willing to pay them to promote products via social media, Vulture reports. But this potential gold mine can lead to some questionable practices as users look for shortcuts to get as many followers as possible.

The New York Times reported on software that enables individuals to create a slew of fake social media accounts, referred to as “bots,” which are then used to boost a company or a user's following in exchange for money.

“One bot creator I talked to (who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because his work violates user agreements with social media sites) said that he manages hundreds of thousands of Instagram bots and makes a good living by pushing posts to the app’s popular page. He can also manufacture all kinds of engagement, including following accounts and commenting on photos,” wrote Nick Bilton in The New York Times.

“Who pays for these services? The bot creator said that his clients include well-known celebrities and brands, along with everyday people who want a social media ego boost.”

One such everyday person described his experience padding his follower list:

“This past week, I bought 4,000 new followers on Twitter for the price of a cup of coffee. I picked up 4,000 friends on Facebook for the same $5 and, for a few dollars more, had half of them like a photo I shared on the site,” wrote Bilton in another article in The New York Times. “Retweets. Likes. Favorites. Comments. Upvotes. Page views. You name it; they’re for sale on websites like Swenzy, Fiverr and countless others.”

Is buying likes and followers ethical?

“These things are not illegal, but they might be considered unethical … there’s a social expectation that you are the real you when making these connections,” Alfred Hermida, a University of British Columbia journalism professor and new media researcher, told The Star. “In a sense, it’s cheating because at the heart of these networks is the fact they’re social, they’re built on connections.”

Blogger Andrew Hutchinson at the website Social Media Today warned those who purchase followers that their success might be short-lived.

“As social media becomes more critical to daily business life, so too does the integrity of its data, and you can expect the networks to roll out enhanced algorithms to crack down on fakes faster, and more widely, than ever before,” Hutchinson wrote.

“So while it might seem like a good strategy to kick off your business profile with a few thousand fake followers … you have to keep in mind that that decision will very likely come back to bite you.”

Email: jpeacock@deseretnews.com Twitter: @thejoepeacock