Would you be shocked to learn that half of Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga’s fans are fake? And more importantly, would you care? For the vast majority of us, the answer is no.

The number of people and brands buying fake social media followers is growing. Paying for followers is a widespread act, and while purchasing followers is against most social networks’ terms of use, it is legal to do so, and thousands of accounts are doing it. So if thousands of people are scooping up fake followers, then it must have its benefits, right?

The argument that many make to justify purchasing fake followers is that the practice actually leads to more organic followers. This is because people will see an account with a large following and become curious about the content, or why this account is so popular. In other words, fake followers can lead to more attention from real human beings.

There is also the argument that buying fake followers doesn’t differ much from buying, say a promoted hashtag on Twitter, to attract real fans. The two “marketing” tactics are simply used to raise awareness. And as shady as buying fake followers may sound, the tactic remains trivial and very affordable.

Here’s a deeper look at why people still choose to buy fake followers and what the benefits, or consequences, might be if you’re thinking about doing the same.


The extraordinary number of fake accounts


“There are so many reasons it’s important to have large followings, depending on who you are. For people who are business leaders, and want to develop a reputation as an influencer or opinion leader, then Twitter and YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, all those, allow them to speak to larger groups of people and to develop a reputation of being an expert or develop the credibility of being the person people are listening to.”

Karen North, USC Social Media Professor


From celebrities to politicians, it has become a necessity to amass a large following in a short period of time if you want to stand out from the noise. And even if the followers you accumulate are fake, the clout that comes with that impressive number is very much real. A large Twitter following can make a grassroots politician appear as an authoritative voice. It can turn a musician into a rising star.

StatusPeople, creators of a Fake Follower Check Tool, which claims it has the ability to determine how many of a user’s Twitter followers are fakes, has revealed some astonishing numbers behind popular social media accounts. For example, the tool uncovered that a whopping 71% of Lady Gaga’s over 35 million Twitter followers were fake or inactive, along with 70% of President Obama’s nearly 30 million followers.  

Just like fake followers on Twitter, people are also buying fake views to jumpstart popularity on YouTube and make people believe that if a lot of people are watching a video, perhaps they should be watching it too. In 2012, YouTube started cracking down on companies and record labels on the site and collectively removed over 2 billion fake views. Universal Music Group reportedly lost one billion of its seven billion views, while Sony lost 850 million.

There is data that suggests a significant number of both Trump and Clinton’s followers may have been purchased during the past election cycle as well. Vlad Shevtsov, a financial industry metadata specialist, based in Novosibirsk, Russia dedicated to new data processing models, has applied his team’s analytical algorithms to the data of social networks. Analyzing both Trump and Clinton’s Twitter accounts, his team established “bot-factors” that detail the likelihood that a particular account is fake, or a “zombie”, by taking into account metadata, profile information, location, the number of Tweets, and other factors. Here are some of their not-so-surprising findings as detailed in TechRepublic:

  • Number of Twitter followers registered in 2015 that fit a bot-factor trait
    • Trump: 44-53%
    • Clinton: 48-57%
  • Number of Twitter followers that have no description
    • Trump: 100,000+ accounts
    • Clinton: 97,000 accounts
  • Number of Twitter followers that have never posted a Tweet
    • Trump: 38,000 accounts
    • Clinton: 35,000 accounts
  • Number of Twitter followers that have no followers
    • Trump: 76,000+ accounts
    • Clinton: 50,000 accounts
  • Number of Twitter followers with no Tweets, no followers, no description, and no location
    • Trump: 39,000 accounts
    • Clinton: 22,000 accounts

Mitt Romney too was caught buying 100,000+ Twitter followers when he was campaigning for President of the United States. Besides a few finger-pointing news articles, the revelation wasn’t a damaging blow to his reputation. Besides, the only value those fake followers provided was a quick dose of encouragement for others to follow him.  

As the number of one’s followers increases, so does the reputability of that person. Robot followers can actually generate real followers as a result of greater importance, no matter how fictitious that following may be.


Is there any good reason you shouldn’t stock up on fake followers?

Considering that fake followers will never comment or like your content, their existence is probably not going to affect your real followers. As organic reach continues to shrink on social media, it’s so much easier to buy followers than to try to earn them by constantly pushing out unique content with hilarious or witty captions. After all, you can purchase thousands of followers within 24 hours in exchange for a $5 bill on Fiverr.

More importantly, almost every fake account exists for the sole purpose of making money for the creator of the bot. There are bots that like or engage with keywords to attract attention, but overall, these are a minority. The majority of fake accounts, even if they vary in complexity according to their creator, only exist for that one reason. Once they have followed you, that’s where the engagement, and the transaction, ends. They aren’t going to comment or buy what you’re selling.

There seems to be little to no backlash to building up a following by purchasing “fans,” but as with most things social media-related, authenticity is key. People want to know who is really behind the profile or brand and it’s important to earn your followers trust by being transparent. When you purchase fans, it’s going to take a toll on this trust and there’s always the possibility it can do damage to your credibility.

Beyond possible damage to your reputation, what fake followers will certainly affect are your engagement rates, and they will definitely never purchase anything from you. They’re just bots, after all. It’s important to note that, especially for retailers, purchasing fake followers makes it nearly impossible to run ads to the “friends of” your audience, since you will just be targeting friends of bots, who are also fake and obviously won’t ever buy anything. Another issue, is that it will be very difficult to figure out who your real fans are, and how you will go about targeting those people if you choose to run ads.

When you purchase fake followers, it’s more likely that you or your brand will face the consequences of the decision, not your fans. So if you don’t care about analyzing your real engagement levels and you’re just after the appearance of a large following, then you might be okay building up your following by purchasing fake followers. Just keep in mind that it is going to skew your analytics and there’s always the possibility of the social networks purging the bogus accounts by the thousands.

As the rules of social media continue to change and organic reach continues to shrink, businesses and social media influencers must think of new ways to get in front of larger audiences — and many will do whatever what it takes to do so. Organic reach for the average Facebook Page has dropped from 16% to 6.5%. Twitter is often associated with having the lowest click-through rates of any social network, and these numbers are going to keep shrinking as social networks continue updating their algorithms in ways that pressures users to buy ads.

Buying fake followers is still a very common practice to build an audience in increasingly difficult channels to do so. Soon, this may be one of the remaining inexpensive ways to boost a following without running ads. And if so many people are still buying them, do you think there must still be some value left in the practice? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

This article originally appeared on The Next Web.