Fake social media profiles: My own experience with Facebook

Just read this blog in the economist, stating how many social media fans/ followers etc are actually fake machine generated accounts. The Blog mentions that Mitt Romney gained 17% followers in a day and interestingly, a friend tweeted about Mitt Romney losing 11 followers per minute.

Arguably this machine generation of fake profiles, is of some benefit to the organization ( say Romney), but I bet also helps build up the numbers of social media service.
A few weeks ago Facebook prompted me to friend one Harsh Taneja. It was indeed a fake profile of myself. The picture and the “about me” description among other details were scraped from this blog. Interestingly this clone of mine and I also had 7 or 8 mutual friends already. Curious I decided to send a friend request to myself and magically it was accepted in some hours. I reported the profile and I think in a day it was taken down ( as I am unable to find it on searching).

Made me think, it is indeed to easy to create fairly real looking machine generated profiles, given the amount of self descriptions we leave on the web, that can be viewed publicly or semi-privately. And it is quite easy for these profiles to circulate unchecked, as people can entirely miss seeing them, forget to report. In some other cases, they may be of people not on the service altogether ( say people who use blogger but not twitter, and their About Me pages on blogger provide fodder to generate these fake twitter profiles.) Scary!

Finally, I decided to use this service to check my own twitter followers and found that 5% of the followers were fake and another 13% inactive. Perhaps explains why tweeting some random but generic word such as Forex, or Television instantly adds a few followers.


Quick Updates on the NASA Diwali Image Phenomenon : Socially Constructed Thruths and the Persistence of Popularity

October 26th ( 2:40 Pm Chicago Time Less than 48 hrs on) ;66, 248 Shares  ( three times over 22,000 before)

October 25th ( 14 hrs on)

Remember in my original post I had speculated that as India would wake up , we would see an exponential rate of increase in the alternate truth. Yes the 1000 odd shares on that thread have grown to 23,000 ( in 12 -13 hrs) in that thread ( potential audience of 7-8 million just from this source).

Interestingly, there were many counter-voices in some of the threads that circulated who argued with similar logic as to why the image was not one of Diwali.Some of these even pointed out to the original website of the image confirming that it wasn’t a Diwali image.  Yet the Euphoria continues to persist.

To me it reflects that on Social Media, once certain facts get socially constructed, it is very hard to let alternate facts percolate. In other words, their popularity will continue to persist, even though they have been proven wrong! There seems little room for course correction.

Social Media and The Problem with ‘Socially Constructed Truths’ : Why all Believed that the NASA Picture Was Clicked on Diwali

India and her diaspora worldwide was excited about Divali, (the festival of lights), and for good reason. A day before Divali,  October 25 2011 3:30 pm CT, I noticed that a map had become a ‘Facebook hit’. In less than 5 hrs,  the link had first appeared it had already been shared by 1000 odd people ( giving it a potential audience of at least 200,000). Remember I am reporting figures for only 1 thread that I could trace.

An idea took form that the picture was an illumination of the country on Diwali night. Of course most people related the distinct, yellow, green and red dots to the colors of fireworks.  When it popped on my wall ( as the 950th share) I immediately questioned that Colombo(Sri Lanka), Lahore (Pakistan) and Delhi could not be celebrating divali with the same ‘illumination’. (Some even speculated these were the remnants of Hindu legacies in these cities!) Also why would people in certain areas burst green colored fireworks when the rest of the country was bursting yellow.

Leave that, it was easy to explain the map if one understood some   development parameters and grade school geography of the region ( Electrical Connectivity and Population Density, Location of the cities, Mountains).

So I decided to question how could the illumination be different from any other night (when the Power grid hadn’t failed)? I commented with my reservations on the wall of the friend who had shared this with me. Seeing some merit in my reservations, he digged the original source of the picture and indeed found it had nothing to do with Divali. He found the original source on FB itself, when someone else like me ( a friend of a friend of his) had commented on their common friend’s share of this post with similar concerns and found this link.

But our counter-currents are far and few between. That they are the complete truth does not matter . As I write, the Indian diaspora on Facebook believes that the map is indeed a NASA picture clicked on a Divali evening. I am sure in a few hours when Indians wake up this ‘socially constructed truth’ will spread further and more widely. ( See my update tracking the numbers)

To me this is the grim reality of online social media!

Happy Divali Regardless

Twittervolutions aren’t Real Revolutions: Why India needs to take to the Streets

Recently there has been a lot of debate over what role social media, twitter in particular  played in the uprisings in the Middle East. Many said these platforms were important but others pushed the envelope by saying that these revolutions wouldn’t be successful without social media. The ongoing case of Anna Hazare’s fast unto death against Lokpal Bill in India is a natural experiment to test these arguments.

As I write: On ground: Sh Hazare’s fast has entered the second day today. There seems some momentum (150-200 people at Jantar Mantar) similar numbers in central locations in some other cities around the country.

On twitter: Thousands of people are tweeting their support.Many thousands more are ‘retweeting’ these tweets further. The topics are also top trends in twitter. There are 20-30 new tweets flowing in every minute for the last 3 hrs at least.  I ask ‘SO WHAT’.

I suspect the actual impact is nowhere as strong as the volume of tweets would suggest.Get into the content of tweets.

  1. It is mostly self styled opinion leaders, film stars and other celebrities enhancing their own brand value by tweeting for a good cause. These tweets are being retweeted by their followers.
  2. Another category of tweets is the news channels trying to enhance their viewership by seeking opinion polls and advertising telecasts related to the issues.
  3. Of course some jokes are among the most circulated tweets.

In sum, there is no collective action being planned actively on twitter nor is twitter contributing to more people joining the actual movement.

Overall the movement remains as strong or weak as it would have remained without this social media intervention. Perhaps there is greater awareness but to my mind tweeting about this is not very different for a majority of people than say congratulating the Indian team for winning the cricket world cup.

In short, despite the immense exuberance on social media, this revolution is yet to become exuberant on the steets, which was the defining aspect of Middle East uprisings. For instance, Interntional news websites (like BBC, CNN and NYT) do not even have a mention of it on their home pages.

They and many others will only take note when Indians in large numbers  take their tweets to the streets.

One cent per character : Will celebrities help Twitter monetise?

So as expected twitter has finally started talking more concretely about its revenue strategies interestingly they have taken to advertising (promoted tweets) as the primary driver along with some exploration into paid accounts. This is an article that talks about these in some detail.

I somehow feel that it is the celebrity accounts of twitter that can give it its much needed revenue stream. Think of the number of followers that celebrities on twitter have generated. Shashi Tharoor ( India’s external affairs minister) has 715,000 followers, Priyanka Chopra ( a bollywood actress) has 250,000 and so on so forth. Even celebrities with a niche appeal say popular journalists (Like Thomas Friedman has over 50,000 followers). So What?

What if twitter begins to charge everyone who has greater than a certain follower base size, a small amount of money on a fixed basis? Would these guys pay? I am sure their respective PR companies will advise them to pay. After all some 750,000 Indians chose to invest their time in receiving updates about their foreign minister’s activities . Can priyanka chopra choose to ignore her fan base of 250,000 people now that she has started actively engaging with them?

I would be interested in answers.

Tweets as Text Messages: Unresolved questions for low internet penetration markets

I am sorry if the title of this post reads like a research paper, (yes you got it) I will blame it on pressures of Grad school. Anyhow:

There has been a lot of chatter that the power of twitter lies in its integration with mobile devices. More specifically tweets being 140 characters can be easily sent via text messaging. And given that in markets where internet growth has kind of hit a wall ( India) mobile phones and text messaging are growing like wildfire. I believe India has 500 million mobile users now versus some 35 million internet users and my sense is that only a third of these internet users would be accessing the net everyday. As for their cellphones well they wine, dine, move and even sleep with them.

So by signing deals akin to the one they signed recenty with with Bharti Airtel ( India’s largest mobile provider) is Twitter all set to widen its user base? Even if an average twitter user tweets twice a day it will cost him Rs 3, and given that there are 50 people he follows he recieves 100 tweets a day. That’s enough gossip to keep someone satiated . As for Twiter if 10 million people do this (2% of mobile users) and as per a revenue share arrangement with Bharti they earn Rs 0.50 per tweet that is about Rs 10 million a day ( USD 80 million annually) – this is assuming a very conservative user base ( If 9.5 millions are already on Facebook already twitter’s integration with text should give it a much larger user base).
Think Something’s amiss? Read on
Consider two people, Amit and Neha ,18 and 20 years old.(SEC B2) They go to a degree college in Muzzafarpur in Bihar (Imagined Data). They have had mobile phones for some time and by now are fairly hooked to text messaging. However they have never used the internet yet. How will they ever discover the utility of twitter? How will they add friends to follow? They represent 90% of India’s mobile users who (almost) all of whom don’t access the internet.

That said the euphoria surrounding Twitter and mobile devices is not unfounded. Existing users of twitter can tweet more frequently and actively ,on the move. But for the millions of ‘Amits’ and ‘Nehas’ how will they even learn about twitter and appreciate its use in their lives unless they discover it on the Web. The extended usage on mobile can only follow that discovery.