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The Ethics of Buying Fake Twitter Followers.

What are followers? A genuine seal of approval? Points in a popularity contest? Something you earn? Is it wrong to buy fake Twitter followers?

Followers are, so the assumption goes, a reflection of how popular a person or brand is. Spectators associate that popularity with value. By the law of disjunctive inference then, your follower count is your value.

In turn, much like how the money you receive is the money you spend, the value you or your brand is assessed also serves as your marketing budget. That is to say, in the low-rent world of indies, your social network IS your marketing budget. A follower count represents how many people are likely to see your marketing message.

Followers are:

  • points in a popularity contest
  • in turn, a measure of value
  • your brand’s marketing budget

Under these circumstances buying Twitter followers results in a counterfeit marketing budget. It is also a clear and knowing mis-representation of your value. It’s wrong.

But then so is having your friends follow you. Or following people as a reward for following you, or following people to induce them to follow you, or any number of follow-back schemes. These are also clear and knowing mis-representations of your value. Any rationalization to the contrary is, well, rationalization. It’s wrong to do any of these things.

The greater wrong, however, may be perpetrated by the spectator who equates popularity with value. The phrase “popularity contest” should rightly inspire revulsion. The connotations are those of a vain and vapid value system; perhaps its very antithesis. That which achieves popularity often does so by pandering to base instincts and insecurities.

And if we view follower count as currency (ie., a marketing budget) and judge accordingly, we are reducing a person to what’s in their wallet. Weighing the animate against the inanimate is also wrong. People are worth more than the objects they possess.

Equating popularity with worth is wrong. As is equating money with good. Systems that promote these behaviors are likewise wrong. That’s not to say that the manipulation of these wrong systems, eg. padding your followers with friends, is right. Unless the audience wants to be manipulated or is otherwise willing and complicit in the manipulation. But who would possibly want to be manipulated in such a way?

As it turns out, most people.

Consider a joint study conducted by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research and Southern Methodist University, Guildhall. It concluded that most people were willing to reject their own personal assessment of a video game experience and instead defer to (fake) review scores.

People shown (fake) inflated review scores gave the game high review scores.

People shown (fake) inflated review scores gave the game high review scores. People shown (fake) deflated review scores gave the game low review scores.

That people reject their own judgement in favor of the judgement of a perceived authority is a disconcerting and unfortunate facet of human psychology. Our personal judgement is one of the most important aspects of our identity; and yet people give it up at a moment’s notice for a sense of belonging or to simply expedite a choice. Whatever the reason, a complicit trade is made. The participants knew that the scores didn’t track against their experience and instead of rejecting the scores, they instead rejected their judgement. Tears for Fears was wrong; not everyone wants to rule the world. The Eurythmics rightly said, “some of them want to be used by you.” Who am I to disagree?

While two wrongs don’t make a right, that is to say, the wrong manipulation of an even more wrong popularity contest isn’t right, the aforementioned caveat seemingly lets the manipulative off the hook. People are willing to trade dear aspects of their identity in exchange for a sense of belonging or choice expediency.

As with everything, there are exceptions and extenuating circumstances.

When Hillary Clinton spends $630,000 of tax payer money to buy fake Facebook friends and Twitter followers, that’s clearly wrong. But it has more to do with the misappropriation of tax payer money than the non-deception; no reasonable person would believe she has 4x as many followers as Bernie Sanders. Such a belief would as of necessity reject critical thinking to such an extent as to be complicit in the deception.

For similar reasons, it’s wrong when then President Obama buys fake followers. But for a struggling indie game company? A more intriguing question is whether or not buying fake followers is effective.

With minimal threat to my ever-lasting soul, I intend to buy fake followers at views4less.com. To stay on the up-and-up I’m outing the deception here in this post; that way those who want to be fooled can be fooled and those unwilling to sacrifice their agency can easily find the truth. Bonus: Enraging the self-righteous gamer internet super-sleuths who suss I have fake followers without reading this post. In an upcoming post I’ll examine whether fake followers have had any appreciable effect on my goals and aspirations.

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