Things on Instagram changed a lot over the last year. With $1 Billion invested in influencer-marketing and tens of thousands of people faking their popularity, we need to start a long-overdue conversation and introduce the word FRAUD to the game. Fake influencers, the black market and the ‘IG-mafia’ on steroids…it’s the wild west of social media!
Last April I was stuck in Jakarta waiting to get my new passport. Imposed stillness and way too much time on hands forced me to face my inner demons. Feeling incredibly torn about the previous 6 months spent using pity tricks to grow my following on instagram, out of guilt, frustration, desperation and moral torments I wrote the infamous ‘INSTAGRAM CREATED A MONSTER’, becoming one of the first instagrammers to speak up publicly, spilling all the secrets about the ‘strategies’ we were using to trick the evil algorithm and gain more followers and engagement. The article ended with these words:
“Now you have all the info I have. You can use this to play the game and join the mafia or maybe, just maybe, you can keep playing clean and know in your heart that the system is flawed and corrupted and you can do your best to make instagram all about stories and creativity and art and The Work again…”
I’ve been clean and bullshit free for over a year but apparently—and quite sadly—most people took the first piece of advice literally and started playing even dirtier than before.
Things in the platform changed dramatically over the past year and today’s instagram world is a very very scary scenario: fake influencers, black markets, scams, an epidemic of fake likes and comments and inflated engagement. The degree of trickery reached a point where nothing is believable anymore and with millions of dollars invested in Influencer marketing the word FRAUD is not an exaggeration anymore but an urgent matter that needs to be addressed.
I’m writing this for you and for my fellow creatives that are feeling incredibly discouraged by how things are going. I’m writing this because it’s time to talk about it. I’m writing this because I’m sick of seeing unfairness across the platform and I’m sick of living in a world where meritocracy is becoming a utopia; good people are being robbed, scumbags are getting rich and talented artists are pushed away from a world that wouldn’t exist without them. It’s the wild west out there today, we’ve created a terrifying fraudulent ecosystem and if we do nothing about it, we’re setting ourselves up for failure as a society. 💔
THE INFLUENCER-MARKETING BILLION DOLLAR MACHINE
Today instagram has 800 million active users and there’s $1 Billion invested in Influencer marketing. ONE fucking BILLION!
If you’re still asking yourself “WTF is an influencer?” this is the best definition I can give you:
Like the word suggests an influencer is someone who is influential or rather someone that has INFLUENCE over people (your mom and your cat don’t count!). Influence means to have the power to condition someone’s thinking and affect their choices.
It’s Obvious that if you want to be an influencer you not only need to have an audience made of real people GENUINELY interested in you and your work, but you also need to have influence over that audience.
“Influencer marketing basically means that Influencers are hired by brands and companies to advertise and promote their business/products etc to the influencer’s audience. The influencer gets free products (or trips, hotel stays, experiences etc) and (usually) gets paid a fee per post or per project/campaign in exchange for promotion on his/her social media channels. The bigger the audience the higher the fee of course.
As usual when there’s money to be made scam-artists pop up like mushrooms. Over the last year thousands of people started using their accounts with the only goal to cheat their way to influencer’s status and today influencer marketing fraud is a problem that has grown out of proportion.
Lured by the promise of fame, a glamorous lifestyle, easy money and loads of ‘free shit’ now everyone wants to be an influencer. Very few though are willing to put in the work—and time—it takes to do something of value or interest and build an ACTUAL real and loyal following.
Instead of investing time in creating good work all these influencer-wannabes mastered the ‘strategies’ to grow their accounts artificially. But ‘strategy’ is not the correct term anymore. If people with no influence are using “strategies” to trick the system and inflate their numbers to fake their influence, and yet someone is paying them for that influence, then it’s no longer strategy, IT’S FRAUD!
THE ALGORYTHM IS KILLING HONESTY
Newbies and wannabes are not the only ones faking their popularity though, seasoned creators are unfortunately part of this too. The algorithm has become more and more ruthless, pushing creatives on instagram to the edge of despair, making them invisible and voiceless.
This is the incredibly sad and devastating truth about IG today: YOU CAN’T GROW *ORGANICALLY ANYMORE.
(*and let’s be clear organically means that people spontaneously follow you and engage with you because they are fans of your work or your voice and want nothing in return.)
First, let me remind you how the algorythm works: If your picture receives a very high amount of likes and comments —especially if these likes and comments come from big accounts—in the firsts 30 minutes after posting, it will appear at the top of people’s feeds AND it could end up in the explorer page—if the likes and comments come from big accounts your chances are even higher—and most likely it could ‘go viral’, meaning it will be seen by millions of users and you well receive thousands of likes from people who don’t even follow you.
(Have you ever noticed your favorite instagrammer taking down a picture within minutes from posting it? it’s because it didn’t go viral!🤔)
So it doesn’t matter if you post a beautiful picture or a picture of a turd, how well that pic will do is determined only by how many people will like and comment on it very shortly after you posted it. With this kind of system in place anyone that has enough money and time on their hands to game the algorithm is going to accumulate likes and followers regardless of their work, talent or influence.
Your visibility is determined by a soulless and tasteless algorithm.
If you play it clean and don’t use any bots or pods to gain followers and engagement your account becomes invisible to the outside and often to the inside as well since only about 50% of my audience sees my posts in their feeds. If you play it clean your followers count will be a constant flat line. This is not science-fiction, it’s a FACT!
The only ways you can still gain followers organically on IG are the following:
-If you are a celebrity
-If the press and TV talk about you—magazines, newspapers, websites, tv, radios etc
-If a lot of people—with decent following—talk about you on instagram mentioning you in their captions and stories
-If a BIG account—500K+—with real followers features you
-If you’ve been on IG for years and had built a big and solid audience/community before the algorithm fucked everyone over.
Fat growth is not an option anymore, If you see accounts growing fast, gaining 100 followers every day, a few thousands followers every month, you can be sure as shit they are doing something dodgy to get those followers! Obviously the people guilty of cheating will deny their crimes to their death, telling you they are just so easily found by people (they also have a magic pony you know?!🦄).
But every honest person playing it clean on IG will tell you exactly what I just told you. YOU DON’T GROW IF YOU PLAY IT CLEAN.
People who work correctly like yours truly here, are rightfully pissed. We worked our ass off—for years—to build our communities**, we spent countless hours producing good quality work and now we are invisible, muted, killed by the system, a system where honesty and transparency are penalized and dishonesty rewarded.
In a world where numbers are gods and have huge impact on our professional life—let’s not act like numbers aren’t important anymore, they are, unfortunately if you are a freelancer working in a creative field often people hire you—or not—based on your numbers. This is happening across all industries. Actors get asked for their followers count at auditions for fuck sake!—I think you can understand our frustration to see these fakers get ahead while we choke.
It’s depressing to see what IG became. In the old days the platform was all about community and creativity, today is nothing but a marketing exchange ad everything is fake. You can’t grow organically anymore and for those who have a real audience is frustrating to see all these fakers getting work conning people into thinking their following is real and engaged. We’re stuck in this black hole and i don’t see how we’ll get out. We should go back to the beginning, back to quality, back to community
—Francesco innocenti, @framboisejam
I’m no Mother Teresa, I did my fair share of light-cheating at the beginning of this dark age, I understand why people out of desperation turn to the dark side and start cheating. I understand small businesses struggling to get the word out. I understand hardworking talented established creators made invisible by the algorithm. I get those guys, I feel sympathy for them, if I didn’t write ‘IG created a monster’ I’d probably be right there with them too.
But what I don’t understand and have no sympathy nor tolerance for are all the other people. The ones who have nothing to offer, nothing of value or of service, the ones fooled by their ego looking for insta-fame (morons!), or, the worst of all, the ones who want to be influencers for easy money, cool trips and free shit…for those I have only 4 words: Shame on you motherfuckers!🖕🏻🖕🏻🖕🏻
Success on instagram today is based on forgery and disohnesty.
THE IG MAFIA ON STEROIDS, THE BLACK MARKET & THE RISE OF FAKE INFLUENCERS
Wether it’s wannabes or established creators, there are tens of thousands of people cheating their way up right now. Let me introduce you to the new world of professional cheaters, and guys, the lengths people are going to fake their popularity it’s seriously frightening at this point!
THE OLD SCHOOL WAYS
Most of the ‘traditional cheating’ methods are still in place. The lame follow-unfollow game is still strong; people are still buying fake followers, likes, views, comments even stories views (now you can even buy fake followers delivered to you gradually throughout a week or two so it won’t show a spike in your growth on Socialblade); bots are still a fucking pest to the platform and its community, and comment pods/DM groups/FB engagement groups—groups of peoples that comment and like each other’s posts to boost their engagement and look like they have an audience interested in them—reached a whole new level of trickery.
Here’s where the scary shit begins! Telegram is a free messaging app like whatsapp, but while whatsapp only allows you to create group chats with 256 members (that’s where the folks from the ‘Instagram Mafia’ used to operate at the beginning), and Instagram DM only allows 15 members, Telegram allows chats with up to 30.000 members. You can do several things on telegram:
MASSIVE COMMENT PODS WITH THOUSANDS OF USERS
There are countless engagement group chats with THOUSANDS of members where people exchange likes and comments to boost their engagement artificially. There are many kinds of groups: niche specific groups (for example travel, or fashion, or fintness accounts etc etc), viral groups (groups where everyone posts at the same time to go viral) and many many more. There are ’rounds’ every few hours.
Generally you join a group, you like and comment to all of the posts shared in the chat in the last 24 hours, then you share your link and wait for the fake likes and comments to come in from the other members of the group. Some groups have a “like it all’ desktop extension that likes all posts in the chat for you.
A the end of the day you are getting a ton of fake likes and comments from real accounts. Fake because they are not coming from people genuinely interested in your post…which means IT’S FRAUD!
[SIDENOTE – Many guilty “influencers” will say pods are harmless and it’s just like-minded people supporting each others work…bullshit! PODS ARE FRAUD no if ands or buts. It’s FRAUD! Try quit your pods for a month and see how many comments you still get from your pod-pals!]
THE BLACK MARKET
Yes guys, you read that correctly, there’s a fucking instagram black market! Today you can buy (and sell) just about anything on the black market to fake your popularity! (There are certain websites also selling insta-fame but it’s on telegram groups that the real dodgy shit goes down.)
Here are some of the things you can buy from the black market:
-Buy instagram accounts – An account that has already 100K followers will cost you anywhere between $1000 to $10000. There’s a ton of people out there “growing” instagram accounts to then sell them on the black market. With the way the system works right now you can “grow an account’ up to 100K in just a few months. Sad sad world we live in! [Oh, and this is clearly against IG guidelines, so why is it allowed again?]
-Buy reposts and shout outs from feature accounts and “influencers” – What better way to make money than to take advantage of the regular poor guy struggling for visibility?! We knew some feature accounts asked for money to repost your pic but now you can buy some visibility directly from your favorite “influencers”! Just toss them a little cash and they’ll shout you out in their stories…it doesn’t matter if most likely their numbers are inflated and no one watches their stories (you can buy stories views as well remember!). FRAUD! fraud, fraud, fraud, fraud, fraud!
–Buy ‘Flash Growth Services’ – aka bots that make your post ‘go viral’.
–Buy the verification blue mark – While anyone can apply for verification on Facebook and Twitter, it’s not that easy to get verified on instagram, but worry not: you can buy that shit! To be verified legally you need to have done something worthy of consideration—like if you wrote a book or a piece of journalism for a big publication, made a documentary, a film, an album, if you founded a brand, if you are a celebrity etc etc—but if you want to pump up your ego all you need to do is to get on a telegram chat! (there are also plenty of websites that will happily sell you the blue mark, I get spammed by emails about it constantly).
This is how it works: someone working at facebook is taking bribes in exchange for the blue mark, a middle man will take your money (anywhere between $1000 and $15000 dollars, depending on your stupidity) and the friend at fb will submit an application for you to be verified. Hopefully it will be approved.
[So if your favorite instagrammer has a blue mark next to its name but he hasn’t done anything worthy of consideration beside posting some pics on IG, you know where that mark comes from!]
FUELGRAM, FUELGROUPS, POWERLIKES & CO
This is a bit complicated so stay with me! Fuelgram is an automated engagement group, basically a bot service + a comment pod mixed into one. You pay a monthly fee, you give them your password and you are in! Fuelgram will use the accounts of everyone subscribed to the service to like and comment on your posts and viceversa it will use your account to comment and like their posts. Recently they added a feature where you can even choose what to write in the comments that you will receive on your photo! Very organic right?!
FUELGROUPS and AUTOROUNDS are even better: they are automated engagement targeted groups where ‘powerful’ accounts’ give/receive likes—through a bot—as soon as a picture is posted. What group you can join depends on your number of followers. There are 1K groups, 10K, 20K, 50K, 100K up to 500K+. People with a low following don’t get enough out of fuelgroups and autorounds but worry not, there’s powerlikes!
POWERLIKES are the holy grail of the IG-scum. They’re basically steroids for your post, these are likes from accounts with a ton of followers 50K to 500K+, remember: engagment from big accounts is what can bring your post to the explorer page! The starting price for ‘good’ powerlikes apparently is at around $300 a month but it can be more, up to $1000. Here you don’t have to hand in your password though, you just pay and as soon as you post, you will receive hundreds of ‘powerlikes’ that would give your post the boost to hit the explorer page.
[I got to know about Fuelgram because fellow instagrammer @Aleksandraontour —who uses pods but never used autorounds—told me about it and explained how it works]
Beside the above, there are MANY other similar services on the web, all of them create fake engagement. Once again, these are likes and comments from real accounts but they aren’t really real, the account owner didn’t push the like button nor typed the comment, a robot did! Which means none of these people give a shit about the faker and his/her post (they didn’t even see it!) and the advertiser who invested in the faker is not reaching a legit audience. Which means it’s FRAUD!
OTHER FRAUDS TO BE AWARE ABOUT
-Courses, workshops, classes on how to grow on Instagram – There’s a ton of people selling fake knowledge, be careful. Most of these people selling you courses on ‘IG growth’ or ‘How to become an influencer’ (wtf does that even mean?!) may have built their audience on bots and sell you a course telling you that to grow on IG you need to have good content…they are lying to you!
-Loop Giveaways – Apparently there’s a lot of scams happening with loop giveaways on IG. I don’t know enough about it since I’ve never been part of one but I had multiple people contacting me asking if I could talk about the issue. If you know anything share it in the comments please.
At the moment influencer marketing is still a rather new industry and there’s a lot of confusion about where the line between legal and illegal is. Many companyes who are investing in it are clueless about what goes on. There are a lot of people cheating, committing frauds and using unethical strategies. Companyes and pr agencies are attracted by big numbers but they rarely have the competence and the will to understand if the influencers they select for a project are professional and truly influential and have a real following.We should all work on this together and identify who’s really influential and professional.
—Ilaria Barbotti @Ilarysgrill, President of @igersitalia, Author of ‘Instagram Marketing – Strategia e regole nell’ influencer marketing”
If—like me—at this point you feel like you want to puke and you lost faith in humanity, well, welcome to the club, it sucks to be one of the good guys!
Gaming instagram today is becoming the norm. But should it be the norm? Why is all this shady business still allowed and unpunished? Isn’t it time to admit instagram really did create a monster, and start calling things by their name (aka FRAUDS!)?
We are all to blame for this monster though, we are all enabling this rotten fraudulent system to keep existing. Instagram didn’t create this shit alone, we all did: Instagram acts like they are blind and keeps allowing frauds to unfold out in the open while the algorithm keeps pushing more and more people to use fraudulent ways to grow; Who’s cheating uses the “Everyone else is cheating” excuse and keeps manipulating reality and tricking people; PR agencies and companies often close an eye and hire these fraudsters anyway because they keep prioritizing numbers over substance; Those who play it clean fade away silently and as usual honest people unaware of this dark underground world hidden behind the platform are getting screwed the hardest.
As long as society will worship numbers removing the number-count would be the best solution to bring serious changes but we know that’s never gonna happen.
I could go on and tell you names—I know damn well who’s cheating and who isn’t, I can spot a faker in a few seconds—but I won’t. This is not about hurting people, it’s about bringing a huge problem to light and start having a long-overdue conversation about how to stop frauds from happening and how to eradicate the parasites. This is not a moral argument, this is a fucking emergency and goes far beyond instagram, because the message we are sending to future generations is that dishonesty is the norm and hard work worthless.
So many people today—tens of thousands— are artificially building themselves on instagram, betting everything on it and forgetting to build anything worthy outside of it. Can you imagine what would happen if instagram disappeared tomorrow? I bet you anything that next to the “Instagram is gone!” headlines on the newspapers we would read the suicides count.
“It is disappointing. IG used to be this place you could go and hang out and feel like you were really part of something genuine, and happy, and caring and people supported each other in a human way. It was a real community. And then it got monetized and it became more corporate and some people made the most of it, but others got greedy. The more people found ways to cheat to make money from it, the more it became only a marketing tool with no soul. Of course it’s business and that’s how business works, but it’s just such a shame because it was something real before..”
—Freya Dowson @freyadowson
I miss the old IG days when the mood was lighter, things were fairer and community was a word used much more often than followers or influencer.
Community—my community, which took me years to build—is what keeps me on instagram even if I don’t like what the platform has become. My people are the best part of IG and I would never trade them for any empty number, no matter how high.
To all my fellow hard working creators that are not being seen: Keep creating. Art can save lives. Like my friend Roberta Zanetti told me on one of my darkest IG days: “If your work can affect even one person, you won already.”
To all the people faking their popularity out there and banking on it: when you go to bed at night, deep inside you, you know you are nothing but a fraud. Does that feel good? I hope you’ll leave your stupid pods, get the fuck out of telegram, turn off your damn bots, put your ego in a corner and ask yourself: what kind of value am I adding to the world?
I don’t know how this will end, if the word FRAUD will be made official or not, if someone will step in and regulate this mess, but I hope more than anything that ‘meritocracy’ will become a more believable word one day and that people will aspire to create something meaningful and of value instead of just wanting to be an influencer.
This is my last contribution on this topic and my last attempt to a kind revolution. This mess left me heartbroken and feeling defeated. Writing this article required several glasses of wine and a lot of tears and anger. But it also helped me to let it go. Now it’s time to stop caring no matter how this will go and focus more on life outside of instagram.
I played my part, I tried to change things last year, for a mere second I even thought i might have succeeded, but I didn’t, it didn’t work. Once again, now you know everything I know and I leave it up to you…
I hope YOU will play your part now. Change is always possible, difficult, but definitely possible. The current system is toxic and rotten and even if no one steps in to fix it it will implode on itself eventually. Things can change, People can change. The only ones that will tell you things can’t change are those who have interest in keeping things the way they are. Don’t listen to those people, the revolution starts inside of you.
THERE IS HOPE IN PEOPLE, NOT IN THE SYSTEM, NOT IN SOCIETY BUT IN YOU AND ME.
IF YOU FOUND THIS ARTICLE USEFUL PLEASE SHARE THE HELL OUT OF IT! Share it on your fb, twitter and IG, talk about it in your stories linking back to me so more people can find it and more people will be aware of the current situation! A million thanks!💕
DISCLAIMER FOR THE HATERS
**yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I know, I’m a fucking hypocrite because I used tricks too in the past. That was over a year ago, the moment I realized that what I was doing was wrong and would have made things worse for everyone in the long run I quit. I started using instagress when I already had 12K and 3/4 th of my audience comes from before or after I used bots and pods, not during!