Vijay Mukhi: There are no fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook

18 Sep,2013

By Vijay Mukhi

 

If you believe the title of this column, you will believe anything, including the medicinal properties of snake oil. Let’s take a hard look at a real Twitter user, vijaymukhi712 by typing in any browser http://twitter.com/vijaymukhi712. The reason why this user cannot be a fake under any circumstance is because he/she has tweeted over 150 times and also has an unrespectable 16 followers. He/she is also a confirmed romantic as most of the tweets sent talk about love. There is no way a person who tweets once a day for months can be a fake. However, if you look at the tweets for a certain day of the month, say, August 22, July 22 etc, they are all the same. One probable explanation could be that this user tweets the same tweet every day of the month, you can accuse him/her of running short of love tweets.

 

The more probable explanation is that the author of this column is extremely lazy. All that he did was collect 30 love quotes from a site on the internet and placed it in a database. He then wrote a 5-line program that picks up the current day of the month, goes to the above database and picks up the corresponding love quote and tweets it. This explains why the quotes are being repeated every month. If I had the patience to collect 366 love quotes, then there would be no way you could figure that Twitter user vijaymukhi712 was not a human. I used to do the same for my Facebook account, but I stopped because too many people (friends) started liking and commenting on my quotes, hence I stooped embarrassing people. This program that tweets automatically is so simple to write that I doubt that I can get anyone to purchase the code from me, even though I am willing to accept payment in 10s of paisas.

 

My basic tenet is that there is no way to distinguish whether a Twitter/Facebook/Social Media account is being operated by a human being or a machine. There is an arms race going on in the social media space where everyone wants to showcase the number of users they have, not at all talking about the quality of the users. Thus it’s in the best interests of the social web to go overboard in making it child’s play for you to create users real or fake. The social web believes that there is a direct correlation between the number of registered users it has and its stock price, the higher the number of users, the more money the social web makes through various means like selling advertisements.

 

I have seen no attempt at all made by the social web to clamp down even slightly on fake users on its properties. I always thought that my name was unique, in the solar system, but on Twitter there is a vijaymukhi, vijaymukhia, vijaymuhiy, vijaymukhi712 and so on. Is there no way for Twitter and Facebook to crosscheck why are there so many Vijay Mukhis on Earth. All that I would do if I was the person in charge of the social web, I would insist  for a phone number while registration to which I would then send an sms to verify the user’s identity.

 

I would make sure that you cannot use the same mobile phone number twice bearing in mind that every user may not afford a mobile phone. This is one sure and simple way to eliminate fake accounts, but is anyone out there listening?

 

The social web has made sure that you can access it by using any device, be it a computer, phone, tablet and now a watch. The only way they can achieve this is by allowing you to use programs to handle the entire process. The social web was smart enough to realise that a CEO would be on the social web only if he/she could outsource their social media presence to an outside agency. After all, few CEOs would actually have the time to tweet or post. Thus the company entrusted to manage the CEO’s account would only make money if they could automate the entire process. This is what I did and I have a Twitter account that is now very active. Unless you automate a social media presence, you cannot scale and make money hand over fist.

 

The second problem that the social web faced was that no CEO would like The Times of India to talk about how he/she has only say a mere 1000 followers, very bad for reputation. To resolve this issue I believe the social web made creating fake followers very easy. Today, it has become a lucrative  business for people to start companies that guarantee millions of followers and likes on Twitter and Facebook for sums of money. The bits of the social web is now replaced by $s. If our government was serious about reducing CAD, encouraging activities like this would go a long way in making the Rupee stronger.

 

What I now spending sleepless nights thinking about is a simple fallout of fake followers. I now have around 10,000 sleeper Twitter accounts which can be activated by the simple act of running a program. I also have a database of over 50,000 negative and other generic statements like You do not know what you are talking about, You are an idiot, You have the brains of a donkey, I disagree with you Sir etc etc. Very easy for someone who understands some English and a one-time activity for creating a database of known English comments. I wait for Mr Modi to make an innocuous tweet. I then turn my social media cyber army on and within minutes I have 10,000s of tweets against Mr Modi’s tweet. Another cyber army of mine only specialises in retweeting these tweets. Within minutes, Mr Modi is now trending, in a very negative sense.

 

The media picks it up as how 10,000s of people on Twitter/Facebook have risen against Mr Modi and eating him for lunch. Makes for Breaking News, Modi is losing the war in cyberspace, a cyber revolt against Modi, etc. This simply shows how unpopular Mr Modi is in cyberspace. Nobody realises that it’s not even a storm in a teacup as none of these tweets are by real people.

 

Do this for a month and the press convinces the rest of us on how Mr Modi has lost his edge in cyberspace and therefore his chances of being anything. How much would the entire exercise cost, if you paid over Rs 10 lakh for this exercise, you would have overpaid. You can also substitute Mr Modi by Mr Tharoor and nothing would change.

 

My worry is that because it is so cheap and there are no safeguards built into the social web, reputations could be damaged with seconds. I would like the Election Commission in India to make an Act like this into a serious electoral and criminal offence which can get a candidate/party debarred for life. The only hitch is that if I pay someone in Bangladesh a lakh of rupees in Indian currency in cash to increase Mr Tharoor’s followers by a large number. When this happens I complain to the EC that Mr Tharoor has indulged in an electoral malpractice. How would the EC prove it either way, only God knows. The only way out is that the EC in India codifies strong Do’s and Dont’s on what is fair and decent campaigning in cyberspace. We haven’t seen such a document yet.

 

Finally, a word of advice to the print and TV news media. Can we please stop reporting social media numbers until the dust settles down? Comparing the number of Mr Modi’s followers with Mr Tharoor’s makes no sense as there is no way of ever figuring out whose followers are fake or not? We must stop believing in social media statistics until we have independent verification of the numbers we use. The social media ecosystem needs to make sure we have a credible way of looking at numbers, if they do not, they will go by the moniker, snake oil salesman. I am saying this with a lot of responsibility as that is what the social web ecosystem is known by today.

 

Next time we will talk about actual numbers that people charge all over the world to make you more popular that Mr Bachchan or Mr Salman Khan on the social web. You do not have to sell your house to be more well known than Bollywood stars on Twitter and Facebook. See how much respect you get from everyone, you could be a social media icon!

 

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