Fake Followers and Follows: Scram!

Congratulations!

If you have recently subscribed to Mindful Stew, you might be the site’s 1,500th follower!

Except that you’re probably not, as I know a large percentage of this blog’s followers aren’t real–I’m not sure how many flesh-and-blood folks follow the ‘Stew.  Freakin’ spambots.  fagner1222ds, dhexd, aeryn65, catalinatutu, and eugeniotony: I’d love to hear from you.

According to this official WordPress forum, there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do to prevent fake users and bizarre international business blogs from subscribing to our public sites.  Do any of y’all have the same issue?

What concerns me is the industry of online “influence” based on number of hits, subscribers, page views, and other measures, much of it driven by spambots.  And people are profitting from it.   This image below is from tweetangels.com, clearly advertising to a certain demographic.  It’s pretty creep stuff.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 5.00.55 PM

The greater issue at play here is how perceived online popularity and activity may influence our decisions and behaviors.  I’ll admit I’ve been more likely to click on YouTube videos or check out certain Twitter feeds because of a number.  How many of you are likely to check out a link that doesn’t have any views or followers?  

Luckily, having a huge number of Twitter followers often has nothing to do with influence (although that big number might be feeding a big ego).  After all, it’s all about retweets and clicks if you’re trying to spread an idea or product–I don’t think the fake accounts will be rushing to help disseminate information or engage in dialogue.

The presence of SPAM, false influence and popularity, and the veil of the screen should remind us–I hope–to continue having a robust presence in the real-world, in balancing out our online lives and identities with what we do face-to-face and in the flesh.

I’m afraid it will become trickier and trickier to discern what digital material is authentically created by people and what is produced by computers or robots.  In 1950, British computing pioneer Alan Turing was already pondering whether or not machines can think.  The eponymous test, the Turing Test, has essentially been an Artificial Intelligence measuring stick for years now.

A human must figure out if a a computer program or another person is chatting with them on a screen.  Computers are getting mighty close to “thinking,” much closer than your sidekick Siri on your iPhone.

On a parting note, I appreciate all of you real readers and commenters–without you, I wouldn’t blog.  

16 thoughts on “Fake Followers and Follows: Scram!

  1. Now I feel like a huge fool….I am very aware of the increasing number of spam comments I get (and spam them) and am also very aware that some of my new followers are businesses (so I can see why they want to link with me if I have {do I?} almost 6,000 followers.

    I check every single new follower, but many offer only a gravatar and no additional information. Do I now have to assume that every single one of those is spam????? And then what?

    • I’ve also come across so many gravatars with no additional information. Some are legitimate people, but most are not, I think.
      I can’t imagine these spam programs gain much from flooding WordPress with fake sites and users, but I guess it’s a very cheap way to engage in sleazy marketing.

  2. Doesn’t Disney use this interactive video technology now? Kids go into a theater and talk to their favorite Pixar character. They get to know kids names and respond directly to their questions. Cool and creepy all at the same time.

    • I hadn’t heard of that, but it sounds like an advanced version of Siri…
      Oxford has been awesome, by the way! Already have a list of favorite spots, but I particularly enjoy exploring surrounding villages, pubs, churches, and walking paths.

  3. i try to always visit the homepages of new followers to see if we truly have similar interests – something to have triggered their interest in my blog. you are right, there are times when it’s strictly a ‘jump on the trendy train’ kind of follow – ditto for the likes, when it’s obvious they did not read at all.. they’re just hitting the like button!

    i enjoyed your post! z

    • Thanks for dropping by z.
      Hitting the like button, I suppose, is also an easy way to market one’s blog or presence. If you like enough pages and blogs, traffic will surely come your way, right?

      • I finally got past the ‘newbie’ stage and learned how to spot a real pingback vs a ‘forced’ one. Participating in the WP weekly challenges always brings pingbacks my way, and like an animal lower on the food chain, I’d follow that breadcrumb trail right back to the person who has probably never visited my site, but is perpetually there through the weekly challenges!

        Ah, it’s nice to have real people who actually read or view the posts!

        Thanks for this post!

  4. Oh gosh yes. I’ve gotten a huge influx of shady followers in the last few months, and while it doesn’t really affect me directly, I still feel a little taken advantage of.

    • Issac,
      To me it’s just a weird phenomenon at this point. But like I said, what happens when the shady followers are computers that can think and engage in your discussion, with no way to tell if a human is behind the screen?!

  5. I know what you mean–this is rather annoying. I am new at this and didn’t realize it was a problem until my last post. I was psyched to get more followers and then realized 1/2 were bogus. Ah, well, now we can’t really trust the numbers….hopefully WordPress will make some changes for us in this regard sometime soon….BUT, I’m happy to say, I’m a new follower of yours and living and breathing!

    • Great to hear from you Robin,
      I intend on exploring your blog a little more in the near future.
      I wonder if WordPress has any way to know how many real blogs are out there, versus spam blogs and users?

  6. I’m yet another new follower of yours who knows not of spambotting poor, innocent, well-followed bloggers like yourself.
    I didn’t realize this was an issue, but it’s quite the interesting phenomenon.
    It seems so…pointless?

    • Agreed. Pointless, unless you spam so many bloggers that it ends up on a few clicks back to your business. I think it’s a really cheap way to drive marginal web traffic. I saw your post about blog egos…clever:)

  7. Amen. Do you get the followers whose blogs are how to make money online doing nothing? I haven’t followed far enough to see what they’re selling. This is yet another problem of using imperfect metrics (tweets, follows, likes, views) that can then be skewed by those with an interest in doing so, like police crime stats, school test scores, etc…

  8. A radio program was just mentioning the practice of buying Likes and clicks and it got me thinking about all these spam followers I’ve received. (I didn’t buy them, I swear.) Poked around a few threads and it got me here. Great post, btw

    Any ideas what the harm is besides inflated #s? I know it impacts the integrity of the blogging experience and makes it hard to truly determine organic growth. I’m not it in for the money and decided a long time ago not to even track # of followers. Is there something else I should be concerned about?

    THanks!

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