Technology journalist Nick Bilton:
“When you look on Instagram, there are over 140 million people who have over 100,000 followers … How is it that the entire population of Russia can be perceived as famous? It’s not possible.”
Bilton … was troubled by a survey he saw. “Kids in America want to be influencers more than any other career,” he said. …
Bilton set out to expose how fake this all was:
The plan was to “get three different people from three different walks of life and see how it turns out for them,” Bilton said. “We wanted to show that really anyone could do it.” …
Three participants were selected: actress Dominique Druckman (@dominiquedruckman, 1,137 followers), designer Chris Bailey (@chrisvsmyself, 1,157 followers) and executive assistant Wylie Heiner (@wylezzz, 2,528 followers).
First, the soon-to-be stars headed to the salon for trendy haircuts. Then came the photo shoots.
Bilton and a photographer helped Druckman and Heiner fake their glamorous photos — they sipped apple juice from champagne flutes and posed in bathing suits in a backyard. Druckman stuck her head in an old kiddie pool filled with fake rose petals, which on Instagram looked like an expensive spa treatment. Bailey, meanwhile, headed to a “private gym” in Beverly Hills — when he was really in a downtown warehouse.
When they posted the photos, they tagged swanky hotels as the locations. Bilton … shelled out $650 for Druckman and a friend to spend the day taking photos at a rented mansion. It cost $50 an hour for Bailey to shoot on a set that looked like a private jet.
Next, and most importantly, was the purchasing of bots. Anyone can go online and buy fake Instagram followers, likes and comments. Bots make up a huge portion of followers for celebs, reportedly including Ellen DeGeneres, Katy Perry and the Kardashians — and, of course, influencers.
“It was really shocking to see how pervasive it was, how much money goes into it, and how the tech companies really don’t have a desire to do anything about it, because it inflates their numbers,” said Bilton, who spent close to $15,000 on more than 300 different bot services throughout the project. “I think you could pull it off for $2,000 a person. A couple grand and you can be perceived as famous.”
Works for some, but bad for others:
For Druckman, the project started to pay off quickly. Companies began contacting her for collabs and inviting her on all-expenses-paid trips. She now has more than 340,000 followers, a good portion of which are real people.
The 26-year-old actress always knew that an online following was important to casting directors, but didn’t realize how much until months into the experiment. As she surpassed 100,000 followers, she was being invited to more auditions and getting offered more parts.
“That was a hard truth that I don’t think I ever wanted to accept,” she told The Post. Having lots of followers “makes somebody feel more confident in you to finish the job,” even though it has “nothing to do with it,” she said. …
The project didn’t go as smoothly for Heiner and Bailey.
Even though Heiner’s following was mostly bots, having all those “eyes” on him exacerbated his anxiety. “I still felt like they were watching me — it made me so uncomfortable,” he tells The Post. At one point, a friend from high school called the 25-year-old out for his fake persona. “I was just embarrassed. ‘I look like a fool,’ ” he remembered thinking.
Fame is the new currency, for many. In these days of easy money for the elite and burgeoning money supply, fame is much harder to acquire than money for those at or near the top. And fame can get you to the top — just ask the Kardashians.
I can’t help feeling that truth is taking a bit of a beating in the online fame game. Is evolution now favoring the glib liars?