Ouch! This operation did sting. This blue virus!
You’ve heard, I’m sure, that an investigative news agency of new-found repute, CobraPost, conducted a series of undercover interviews with “IT firms” (Social Media agencies?) who “offered their clients a fake following on Facebook and Twitter, and indulged in negative publicity against a political leader or a party, or a corporate house, at the behest of their opposite camp, for money.” They then go on to make the point that a certain political party (Shh… we don’t name and shame) and a certain politician have been using such tactics to gain/demonstrate popularity over the online world.
So here we have three questions at hand!
- Does it come as a surprise that these practices exist?
- Would/should a political party (or any brand) adopt them?
- And lastly, does this make Social Media any less credible?
The first question is a no-brainer. Black Hat Social Media is a rampant practice. Globally! And it is not surprising, not at least for people who have been in the industry for quite some time. All professions have illicit ways of doing things, the Internet included. Spamdexing, phishing and spamming are all wrong and rampant – just like fan buying (Read more). Social media managers who need to show quarterly “results” fall for it all the time. True for brands as it is true for political managers! Sad, but such is life.
It is the second question that merits a wider discussion. Does it really help? To answer this, we need to take a step back and rethink what Social Media is all about. Social Media is not about numbers – it is about people. Black hat tactics might as well give you numbers. But what is the point of having these numbers if they are either bots or plants? Engagement can happen with real people who are genuinely interested, and not with bots or disinterested plants. Consumer products want to see sales and a politician would want to win elections. Bots will not help achieve either. Numbers might just get you a short term promotion, but it will not do your product any good. Not long term for sure.
As far as planting false stories is concerned, it has been happening since ages through “PR agencies”. The only difference is that these PR firms have now moved from print/TV to social. But unlike print/TV, Social Media is democratic – everything here is out in the open. All sides have an equal opportunity to push out information and engage with you. Agreed, that the inherent chaos in Social Media is a fertile ground of misinformation. But the truly anarchic nature of this chaos also makes sure that each feed needs credible validation through 3600 sources to be consumable.
As a case in point, take this very sting, which suggests that this particular politician (incidentally also a Prime Ministerial candidate) is faking popularity on twitter through programmed bots. This can be substantiated only if (let’s say) it is perceived that this individual does not demonstrate such popularity outside the online world. If he does, it proves contrary, and the credibility of the accusation depreciates over time. This is exactly how it will work if any iniquitous information about a popular brand is pushed out by a competitor.
In other words, on Social Media, you get to choose your own truth, your own brands and your own PM.
So, this bring us to the final question, does this expose make Social Media discreditable?
Okay. Stop thinking! Of course it doesn’t. Road accidents have not made mankind’s love for automobile any less fanatic. Positives far outrun.
Just remember irrespective of what CobraPost would tell you, fake fans do not engage; and motivated or mischievous posts die natural deaths quicker than you can sell your bike on Quikr.
Okay. That hurt more than the sting.