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Fake followers are a massive problem, as SA duo proves

It’s almost become an unspoken fact over the years that social media has a major problem with fake followers. Now, two writers have brought the problem into the open by running a dummy Instagram account and buying fake followers in the process.

Lipgloss is My Life editor Leigh van den Berg and Candice-Lee Kannemeyer, the editor of In My Bag, created the Instagram account to find out how easy it was to buy followers in the first place.

The duo also made it very obvious that their account was for nefarious purposes, calling it fake_fake_fake1981 and declaring that it was a fake account in the profile. If that wasn’t enough, the writers were uploading low-quality snaps as well, such as a cooler box and a bare foot.

They bought 1000 followers for US$9, following that up by purchasing 100 likes from a service for US$3. Of course, they used all the likes on a photo of a white block.

In an email interview with Memeburn, van den Berg explained the reasoning behind the fake account.

“We work with a lot of brands and have recently been shocked by the amount that are now working with ‘influencers’ who’ve clearly bought their following. Having to sit at launches with Insta-fakers and watching brands lavish expensive campaigns on them has become seriously grating,” van den Berg wrote.

“We know how hard it is to work for years to garner a genuine audience and watching morons who buy it and then blacken the words ‘influencer’ and ‘blogger’ with their resultant rubbish ‘engagement’ is nothing less than maddening.”

The duo told Memeburn that buying followers is as easy as Googling ‘buy Instagram followers’, then paying via your credit card.

Instagram isn’t the only offender though, with Kannemeyer saying that the practice extended to the likes of Snapchat as well.

The prevalence of fake followers in SA?

Just how bad is the phenomenon in South Africa though?

“I’ll go out on a limb here and say that 80% of all South African IG ‘super stars’ with more than 10 000 100 000 followers are faking it. Not all. But 80% of them,” van den Berg reckons.

“Our PR bestie who we won’t name emailed one of our suspected fakers this morning (30 March) asking for her rate card. The faker’s worked with several retail chains that should know better and has charged them R20 000 for a ‘monthly online presence’ but she won’t hand over her blog’s stats. Sadly, this isn’t a unique situation in the least,” she added.

For the uninitiated, why should users with fake followers be cause for alarm?

“For one, their ‘influence’ isn’t real. Any message they’re relaying is going out to a mix of of dead/abandoned accounts and bots who have zero interest in what they have to say. Even likes, video views and comments can be bought and its not expensive either. It’s like buying an ad in a magazine that tells you it’s got millions of subscribers but in reality they’re only printing ten copies,” van den Berg answered.

Fake followers have become a massive issue in South Africa, Kannemeyer and van den Berg said

“In short, its a waste of ad spend that could go to someone sparking genuine engagement with an authentic targeted audience that trusts their opinions. The whole movement towards consumers taking notes from influencers (as opposed to things like magazines) is the personal element and the notion that you’re hearing from an individual that you assume has integrity.”

Are the likes of Instagram and Twitter doing all they can to fight the trend, then? Kannemeyer isn’t so sure…

“Interestingly enough, if you read Instagram’s good user policy, buying followers is NOT ILLEGAL (sic), yet they both state it’s against their terms of good use policy. Why they allow it, I don’t know.”

The duo said they’re in the process of creating a workshop so brands/people can identify users with fake followers.

Update, 3 April 2017: Van den Berg initially wrote that “80% of all South African IG ‘super stars’ with more than 10 000 followers are faking it”. She has since confirmed that the figure was meant to read “100 000”.

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More


  1. Petar Soldo

    April 1, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    Fake followers is an issue for almost all popular users on Twitter and Instagram. In taking a cursory glance at the Twitter profiles of Leigh and Candice, it reveals amongst their own followers a number of likely fake profiles, which is interesting, given their complaint against this.

    There is of course the question of motive: did someone buy the fake followers or simply not removed them from their profiles or even simply followed on of the many strategies for building a follower base.

  2. Mike

    April 1, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    It’s no secret that Craig Howes, someone who runs the Cape Town Tourism IG account amongst others, has also been in the spotlight for his use of bots and purchasing of fake followers and likes. Why brands continue to work with him is beyond me but hopefully this workshop that the girls are starting for brands will help open the eyes of those that pay influencers who are clearly obsessed with paying to grow their followings.

  3. Shawn Ogulu

    April 3, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    It’s no secret that you and your girlfriend are botting and buying and also copying Casey Neistat videos. Please sit down child.

  4. Louwrens Lemmer

    April 3, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Mike stepping in the very trap he tries to set to others. Always the first person to throw rocks, yet you and your girlfriend actively bot as we speak. Just look at those preposterous “following” and “unfollow” stats! 😱

  5. Pingback: Instagram & Spam: What You Need To Know | Fox & Owl Media

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