There have been a number of articles released by somewhat-reputable websites shaming celebrities for having fake followers. Some seem to prove that lesser-known celebs knowingly purchased fake followers, other use certain online tools to approximate fake-follower counts, and others rely on data from the Instagram Purge where some popular accounts lost millions of followers.
This make for decent gossip, except the implication is flawed. By featuring incidences where popular accounts lost non-trivial portions of followers, different websites lead readers to believe that the celebrities themselves are responsible for garnering fake followers.
Since I haven’t seen this covered anywhere else on the internet, I thought it would be useful to set the record straight. No, Lady Gaga’s PR team had not purchased millions of fake followers. Kim Kardashian’s team didn’t either. Where did they come from?
Put yourself in the shoes of a programmer in Russia who has determined a way to programatically create fake Instagram accounts that seem real. You’ll spend some time scraping photos from real accounts. You’ll spend time determining how to name 100,000 different accounts. You’ll then have to interact with accounts so as to not get picked off by whatever detection system Instagram has.
To do this, nearly everyone creating fake accounts probably does the same thing. They follow the most popular accounts on Instagram. This helps them seem more legitimate, though generic. You might wonder why these fake account creators don’t do the opposite and follow small, basically-unknown accounts. The reason is that new followers will get scrutinized if they choose to target a group like college students. Users who get followed by fake accounts may be more likely to research and report them, while Lady Gaga’s team simply doesn’t have the capacity.
Some celebrities purchase fake followers, but everyone, especially those near the top-end of the spectrum, is victimized by their own success. They can’t control if fake accounts follow them, and it’s disingenuous to suggest that they actively purchase them.