It was Raid Night (sunday, 9:00pm) for my World of Warcraft raiding guild, and we had a couple of guests along for the quests. Per usual procedure, we were all collected in audio-chat, logged in to WoW, and most of us had a bottle of wine or some beer open, and as the raid continued – as was our wont – we got merry.
One of the guest who was running with us was kind of obnoxious, it turned out; several of us were making eyerolling chat gestures to eachother off the audio – and as Lord Obnoxious got tipsy, he became still more obnoxious. Then, he became maudlin, and started announcing to everyone on the chat how much he loved us for letting him raid with us, and how great a bunch of people we were for being his companions, and a bunch of stuff like that. Then, one of the guild, who was usually pretty quiet, chimed in: “your mom paid us.”
“What!?!?” he howled, drunkenly.
“Well, she knew you have trouble making friends, and so she hired us to entertain you.”
It turned out not to be a very funny joke, because Lord Obnoxious apparently believed (albeit briefly) that his mother would do something like that, and it took a bit of doing to unscrew the situation.
Friendship is a strange sort of commodity, yet it has become a token of sorts, online: we hear about how many followers of friends someone has and act as though that an indicator of popularity, or something. I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to you, but that game was immediately rigged by the enemies of authenticity.
Those 3757 followers are mostly people who’ve picked up some of my comments at conferences, or read one of my articles in the security world. I don’t “tweet” much and, as you can see, I hardly follow anyone. So I explored the war on authenticity and went to a website that offers “premium social media followers” – they have a whole menu of options, including followers that just follow you, followers that will “like” what you post, etc.
On a whim I “earned” an inauthentic following of sincere robots that make me look much, much more interesting on twitter than I am. I think they cost me about $50. They will follow you, too, in their nonexistent thousands, if you wave a fraction of a silver piece in their general direction.
One hour later, I had a small army of cyber-lemmings, jostling for place among my human followers. The services that run these bots are careful not to have the bots suddenly all start subscribing to the same person, because then they’ll look too bot-like; apparently the finer bots are able to “like” and even retweet (semi-randomly) your messages, or make approving comments.
It’s got to be quite an arms-race between the companies like facebook and twitter, and the herders of the inauthentic army of follower-bots.
To me, the weirdest part about the whole scene is that anyone with half a brain ought to realize that these “followers” are robots; that a substantial number of all of the users of twitter and facebook are robots. Yet marketing people still pay for “impressions” as though there are actual people reading their stupid ads. Real people are doing this: [source]
The online marketing community is like the worm Oroborous, who kicks his own ass. Of course 200 million people is just a drop in the bucket of the online user-base, but you’re looking into the future: online marketing is both selling “impressions” and generating “impressions” – it’s what Chuck Spinney calls “a self-licking ice cream cone.”
In our war on authenticity, we have created a marketing engine in which the appearance of attention is marketable. Briefly. Eventually, the end-game will be “conversions” – impressions will mean nothing, sales will be everything. That is already beginning: if you set yourself up as an Amazon affiliate, you are paid based on the amount of stuff that is sold through your links.
[By the way, I feel I should mention this, since I occasionally post links to Amazon so people can find books I recommend: I am not monetizing this blog in any way. Anything stderr brings in goes to the FtB collective’s operating expenses.]
The window has probably already closed, but if you could go back in time 4 or 5 years, you probably could create an online personality like YesJuls (who has 157k followers on Twitter), buy a ton of follows, retweets, and likes, then try to farm yourself out for product placement. Product placement shills get paid a certain amount to mention a product.
There is an entire subsurface economy devoted to selling inauthenticity. The “influencer” market is where you try to get a large number of followers, and then make a sponsorship arrangement to push a few products. Some influencers are extremely effective, because they’re marketing to a specific niche (e.g: cosmetics, shoes, drones, guns, games) the subsurface economy, as economies do, breaks itself into the aggregators and the aggregated, until vertically integrated markets form. Forums and consultants offer to serve as middle-people to make handshakes between “influencers” that want to sell themselves out, and bottom-feeder businesses that want to dabble in inauthenticity:
Yet, the influencer marketers know they are part of the Worm Oroborous:
I don’t think this is irony; it’s simply that they are utterly amoral marketing weasels who don’t give a damn about authenticity. They are literally undercutting their own value proposition, if someone will pay them a buck under the table to do it. As I have said elsewhere [stderr] marketing is one of the few inherently immoral jobs. It’s a field that’s constantly chasing the cutting edge of inauthenticity, because they immediately devalue everything that they do: every new communications medium, Facebook, Twitter, whatever, gets so festooned with ads that the ads become useless, so they sell you targeted ads – and when those become useless they’ll sell you influencer product placement ads designed to sneak past your notice.
My blog readership has not changed at all, because of the addition of 10,000 followers on twitter. I could probably buy 10,000 followers and commenters on this blog (Now, don’t go start giving eachother suspicious looks! You’re all real as far as I can tell) and then I’d have huge gigantic amounts more nothing.
The war on authenticity creates a wasteland and calls it “social media.” But that’s like saying that the Las Vegas “Paris” hotel reminds you of Paris, France. It’s all polyurethane foam and paint and there is no substance.
One authentic friend is worth 10,000 rental sock-puppets. I hope that we burn through the current and next cycles of the war on authenticity and get back to the beginning of the worm; content is the once and future king.
There’s a business opportunity for someone to punch a hole below the waterline of these sites. Set up a rotational robot site: for every comment you post on someone’s blog, someone posts a comment on yours. Free. Then, someone who wants to buy rotational comments can just get an Amazon Mechanical Turk work order for that, or hook their chatbot AI up to it.
In some hellish Matrix-like vision of the future, there’s one human sitting behind a keyboard, trying to find out if they’re the last human left alive – and whenever they try to talk to someone who may be human, it turns out that it’s just another chatbot AI.