Free Press Journal

Big Bot! The harsh truth on fake followers

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Amitabh Bachchan is not a happy camper these days. After Twitter did a crackdown on bots, fake followers, Amitabh Bachchan was one of the celebrities who lost his follower count. While most people were expecting Big Bot – oops, Big B – to have a meltdown, he seemed to have taken the news quite sportingly. Not too long ago Bachchan did lament over losing a number of followers on Twitter. But he is not the only celebrity who has lost followers; Donald Trump, the ‘leader of the free world’ also lost out on follower count.
Twitter is announcing major limits on how users and apps can automate tweets, in order to combat spam and political propaganda bots. Developers are now banned from using any system that simultaneously posts ‘identical or substantially similar’ tweets from multiple accounts at once, or makes actions like liking, retweeting, and following across multiple accounts at once.

Culling fakes
Intensifying its crackdown on fake and automated accounts, Twitter has removed suspicious accounts from users’ followers to give a ‘meaningful and accurate’ view of follower count. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi lost nearly 3,00,000 followers while Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi lost over 17,000 followers. Former US President, Barack Obama also lost over two million users. So, who are these bots and automated accounts?

Balsingh Rajput, Superintendent of Police (SP), Cyber, Maharashtra, heading the overall execution of Maharashtra government’s cybersecurity project, says, “There are two kinds of fake follower-profiles – one is organic and the second is inorganic. Some bots or fake profiles, as we call them, are just created to increase followers, but they have zero engagement and are stagnant. The other kinds are the ones which are made to spread hate messages, or target women and indulge in abusing and trolling. There are some profiles which are created by taking people’s ID cards, which is also illegal. There are another kind of bots which serve the purpose of answering automated messages.”


But is it legal? Rajput maintains, “It is neither legal nor illegal. However, using these bots to spread hate propaganda is very much illegal. When we get complaints of trolling or abusing, we apply the required Penal Codes. Trolling is still not a crime. But if a woman is abused or harassed online, we have a process in place to track down the user. Section 354 A of the Indian Penal Code is applied in such cases which are tantamount to sexual harassment.”

Unethical, ineffectual
Akancha Srivastava of ‘Akancha Against Harassment’ which is India’s social impact initiative to raise awareness against cyber harassment, says, “Buying followers on Twitter doesn’t help your reach in any case. What’s the point of bulking your follower list if they aren’t adding to organic reach and influence? What really matters on this platform is engagement and quality of followers. Even if you have a small number of followers but they are of high quality, your content will still reach a good audience. One also needs to focus on the quality of their own content. Consistent good content will certainly attract the right followers to you.”

She adds, “I have never bought nor support buying followers. I support the recent Twitter purge where they eliminated fake/ inactive handles. This was a great move. It would certainly help in making the platform more real and serve its purpose of being a truly interactive medium for people across the world with diverse fields.”

Faisal Amin, co-founder of Fruitbowl Digital, also mirrors Akancha’s thoughts. He says that even if it is legal to buy followers, it is not ethical. “It varies from platform to platform. Policies are stricter when it comes to Instagram. You are in direct violation of their laws. When it comes to Twitter or Facebook, you aren’t directly breaking the law but these activities are highly discouraged and frowned upon.

He further adds that a lot of brands are in panic mode. “They lived in a bubble that has been burst, but it is a much-needed wake-up call for most brands. We never recommend our brands to indulge in buying fake followers. Fake followers = fake engagement. The worst part about fake likes is that the image of the brand suffers. Imagine, waking up to 5000 followers from 50,000 followers. They will lose respect from the genuine followers as well. They are now resorting to their Plan B of long-term result bearing strategies, which should ideally have been their Plan A. Smarter ones have understood the difference between a genuine relationship and a casual hangout. You don’t want the latter. You want to have meaningful conversations with your audience and anything that does not fit that bill is something you should steer clear from.” Heard that, B-town celebs?

Biggest Losers
Ultimately, Faisal maintains, buying followers is a personal choice. “There are two kinds of people: those who believe in the number of followers and people who believe in the engagement. It is always good to fall in the second tribe. I see buying followers as a quick fix which will have negative repercussions. That is something I will neither resort to nor advocate. You can advertise through the right channels and reach out to your target audience using the algorithms and solutions built by the platforms. There are legitimate ways of getting more followers. It is always advisable to burn sweat to avoid burning blood in the long run.”

The biggest losers here will be the celebrities worldwide, who suddenly woke up to see a large number of follower count gone down. Which makes us wonder if followers can be bought this easily, does it really matter how many followers one has on social media? Isn’t it a tad suspect that one day after Priyanka Chopra crossed the 25 million followers mark on Instagram, leaving behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amitabh Bachchan on the photo-sharing platform, Deepika Padukone celebrated crossing the 25 million follower mark on Instagram? Bloggers and influencers who once boasted of a huge follower count have found themselves in a soup, as they can no longer bully or arm-twist agencies and brands into ‘large follower count’ trope. Sorry Big B, you have to adjust with fewer
followers now.