BBC News recently posted a report regarding a New York state investigation into a company, Devumi, which sells quantities of Twitter followers for a price. They also sell “likes” and “retweets” and even offer their service to other platforms as well, including Pinterest and LinkedIn (see full article here). According to the report, Devumi may have a stock of “at least 35 million automated accounts, many of which are sold repeatedly.” However, the real reason for the investigation are the allegations that Devumi has actually stolen the identities of real people in order to feed their business. Some estimates suggest at least “55,000 of the fake accounts use the names, profiles pictures, hometowns and other personal details of real Twitter users, including minors.” And who has benefitted from this “follower factory”? Devumi itself states on its website it “has helped over 200,000 businesses, celebrities, musicians, YouTubers and other pros gain more exposure and make a big impact to their audience.” In response, Eric Schneiderman tweeted that this means “real voices are too often drowned out…Those who can pay the most for followers can buy their way to apparent influence.”
In other news: Did you know that in Japan you can pay an actor to impersonate a relative, spouse or other needed acquaintance to fill a need at a social event or on a personal level? The business, called “Family Romance”, boasts a staff of 800 actors ranging in age from infants to the elderly (see full article here). The CEO, Ishii Yuichi “believes that Family Romance helps people cope with unbearable absences or perceived deficiencies in their lives”. He goes on to say, “I always ask every client, ‘Are you prepared to sustain this lie?’ ” Based on the success of his business, it is safe to say that most people enter into such a contract with full intent of doing just that – sustaining the lie.
I must admit, reading about the prevalence and profit of the fake-friend market was shocking to me. But after further reflection, I realized I should not be surprised. It was inevitable. It simply reflects an inverted value system we have already adopted wholesale in our society. What are these inverted values?
Quantity over quality: In many instances, the quantity of social media friends a person has matters more than the quality of those same relationships. When I attended a writer’s conference five years ago (an excellent conference, I might add), I was disappointed to learn that publishing companies are initially more interested in the extent of your social media presence – your platform – than your writing. Building an audience is the key to opening the door to becoming a published writer. Personally, I struggle with this. I would rather invest in deeper relationships than work hard to enlarge my social media follower base. But that’s not how it works these days. And based on the “fake friends” that people are paying for, I don’t think we are better off for this.
Perception over reality: “Fake news” has become a staple of our society. It appeals to our emotions, our values, our struggles. In this post-truth age, objective facts seem irrelevant in comparison to a person’s everyday real lives and experiences. So it is not surprising that the perception of having a lot of friends has become more important than the truth. It is more important to rent a husband to join in on the family reunion than to face the reality of a divorce that happened.
Personal gain over mutual enrichment: Rather than friends being a source of mutual encouragement and support, people are seeking out friends – even fake ones – for their own personal gain. Fake friends don’t require anything from us. They don’t get mad at us or hurt our feelings. We don’t have to remember their birthdays or send a Christmas gift. We would rather write a check for fake friends than listen to a real friend’s problems.
I don’t know what the actual price tag is for a fake friend, or for 20,000 Twitter followers. I don’t want to know. I desire to fill my life with meaningful relationships characterized by mutual honesty, support and authenticity. And that, my friends, is priceless!