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.

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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

Hail the web and the blogosphere: Finally my blog has had ‘real impact’

I have been updating this blog somewhat regularly now. I have often wondered whether I write this weblog for a particular audience . Perhaps the diverse nature of posts (yes I go all over) suggests that I don’t. So why do I then bother to use tags, categories to make my blog more search friendly. However I have been proven wrong and I am thrilled!
Regular readers (sigh!) will remember a few weeks ago I wrote about my rather funny but adorable roommate from Russia, Mikhail Safronov on this blog. I had forgotten about this post altogether. A few hours ago Mikhail came running to my room, excited and blurted out loud ” Harsh, A real Bhains ki Aankh has happened. My parents saw your blog and now are making fun of me and my mom is a little worried that Barack Obama should not see this blog !”

We were amused that how did they get to this post. I used the word-press dashboard to see what search terms had been used recently to get to this blog. And found that someone on 2nd Feb 2010 had used the phrase “northwestern university safronov” to get here. So now Mikhail knows that his parents (or their colleagues) try to stay more informed about their son than his phone calls can inform them. Maybe the economist will elevate his views about a PhD in Media, Technology and Society!

So a piece of content produced in the USA which perhaps appealed to only one unit in Russia – Mikhail’s household – reached there in less than two weeks after it was produced. The recipients had to be just more active in seeking what they wanted to read/view. I hope Mr Safronov gets to read this one too!

Has user generated content killed old ‘media logic’ ?

Recently, at a graduate students’ party somewhere in Midwestern United States, two short and sweet videos got very spontaneously produced.

What intrigues me is that all it took was a gathering of a cross cultural group, some high “spirits” and these two videos got produced .At absolutely no cost, in absolutely no time. Yet a platform like YouTube ensures that they can be viewed by as many people, anywhere as many times – all for free. This is free automatic production and free consumption at its best.

I make no claims that these two videos are potential blockbusters. But then how often does prime time television or cinema for that matter produces hits? With a little bit of costs and promotions some of these nuggets can also assume blockbuster proportions as a fellow media enthusiast writes about Charlie. Charlie is one such success story among thousands.
Remember the funniest group dance. No one created it as a media event. But at 40,000 views, 88 high ratings, and 56 text comments, it has made its impact. It has engaged a larger community than MICA , a communication school in India where this was a dance performed at an annual function.Someone just videotaped and decided to share it online – the hyperlinked society ensured the rest

These are stories that question conventional media logic. The logic which involved high production and distribution resources, and subsidies from advertisers and consumers. In other words,does the concept of Free spell the death of culture industries?

Let me know if you have answers