FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT, RIGHT?
Guest post by Jenny Ojanperä
Social media includes a rising number of problems, both legal and social. One of the most prominent re-emerging subjects is fake followers. A phenomenon that sounds utterly harmless at first and is certainly familiar to everyone. When we were younger, the guys who fell into this practice were even laughed at. However, the reason for buying followers can be found through rapid research.
The Economist conducted a study that shows clearly why the pretentious increase in the number of followers on social media is attractive. The biggest influencers, who can nowadays be called even celebrities, can earn up to $300,000 just by publishing one post. By being a micro-influencer and having just over ten thousand followers, you can earn even a thousand euros per post. Comparing these sums to the amounts the “influencer” has to pay to get fake followers makes it easy to see the course of the reasoning chain as to why this activity has been undertaken. Click farm clients can get 1000 Instagram followers by paying an average of $16 and 1000 likes with an average of $14. 
Next, the question of the harmlessness of the action arises. Is this really the case? Take the Netherlands, for example. Hypeauditor has researched how many influencers have taken advantage of fake followers. The percentage is the lowest for micro-influencers with 1k-5k followers. This figure is around 51%. With the largest accounts (100k-1M followers), the percentage rose to over 63%.  These numbers help to illustrate the extent of the problem. If at least every other influencer resorts to such activities, one may ask why we should even care. After all, this is a perfectly normal daily activity. However, the consequences of the action are impressive, even if it is not seen at first glance. In 2019, this style of influencer fraud cost various companies $1.3 billion, and in 2020, $1.6 billion.  The Influencer marketing industry in 2020 was worth about $10 billion.  So we can see that the loss produced by fake followers can be as much as one-tenth of the total.
Buying fake followers can have significant consequences for influencers. I will mention a few of these next. One of the most considerable consequences is a fraud charge. Fraud is defined as a crime in the laws of all Western countries. In the example in the Netherlands, Section 326(1) of the Dutch Criminal Code defines fraud as an act by which a person intentionally tries to gain benefit through, for example, lies. This is punishable by a maximum of four years in prison. Based on the above, this crime description fills up surprisingly quickly when it comes to buying fake followers. When an influencer buys followers, it’s hard to say that he didn’t do it intentionally. The purpose of the followers’ purchase is to make it look like the person is more popular than they really are. This gives companies who want to work with them the wrong impression of what they get in return for the marketing they pay for. Therefore, it is easy to argue that a person lies about the number of followers to earn more co-marketing revenue. For example, Devumi LLC was prohibited from selling fake followers by New York Attorney Generals settlement. 
Influencers should also consider that even if the crime is not prosecuted, buying followers is still at least against the user rules of the major social media platforms. Companies can even delete an account after breaking the rules. Fake followers will also disappear with this, and it has been entirely pointless to buy them. Instagram, for example, has said that the first time you get a warning about this dishonest practice, but this won’t happen again next time. 
The question remains why so many people are conducting this fraudulent act. Maybe it is about the easiness of the act and how rare serious consequences are. Therefore, many channels must be talking about this phenomenon and raising awareness. After some time, it may be possible to get rid of this action model and start to be more transparent on the internet.
 The Economist, Celebrities’ endorsement earnings on social media – Daily chart, 2016
 Paquet-Clouston M., Bilodeau O., and D´ecary-H´etu D., Can We Trust Social Media Data?: Social Network Manipulation by an IoT Botnet, In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Social Media & Society, 2017