A confession: One Saturday many years ago I was hosting an evening party and hired a small crowd of neighborhood teens to stand behind a rope-line on the sidewalk in front of my home.
From there, these youths greeted every arriving guest with cheers and over-enthusiastic squeals of excitement and delight: “Oh, there he is!” “It’s her!” “Can I have your autograph?” “I can’t believe it’s really you!” One girl even swooned on cue.
Every guest felt famous for a minute or so. It was fake fame, of course. But kinda fun, I heard.
I mention this in the interest of full disclosure. And because in the absence of any serious crime, gang or drug problems in this country, several government prosecutors are now looking into the sale of bogus fame on Twitter. Forget Mexican cartels and ISIS infiltrators.
Many Americans were likely unaware of the secret, dark underbelly of Twitter, the shadowy threat that fake followers pose to the nation, at our possible peril. Fortunately, President Trump is keeping Guantanamo open. Is claiming too many friends a felony or misdemeanor?
Apparently, there are celebrities — or their personal assistants — willing to pay a handful of companies to round up thousands of followers each month to pad their numbers on social media’s statistical totem poles. It seems most of these leased followers are fictitious, giving an inflated sense of influence and/or ego to anyone who might pay attention to such things.
Now, I am absolutely certain that the sagacious and circumspect @BritHume has personally verified the identity of every one of his 828,346 followers. But I have never thought to personally care how many follow @AnnCoulter (1,880,211) or whether they’re real. They’re just potential book buyers.
Or to ponder how many of @RealDonaldTrump followers (47,264,871 last night) are fake. Let’s just say, for the sake of a Thursday post, that 25 percent are fictitious. That means every one of this president’s tweets reaches a potential audience of about 35 million people free of any filter, any politician’s ideal communications tool. That’s more readers, listeners or voters than any journalist could ever imagine, except maybe in the dreams of Jim @Acosta (521,472).
In another of its spate of recent exposes, @nytimes (41,024,048) reported Wednesday:
More than a million followers have disappeared from the accounts of dozens of prominent Twitter users in recent days as the company faces growing criticism over the proliferation of fake accounts and scrutiny from federal and state inquiries into the shadowy firms that sell fake followers.
Twitter has long been a paragon of opacity. When awake, its minions ban and suspend people without warning, explanation or appeal. Awakened by media interest, the ubiquitous entertainment medium has been silently housecleaning follower lists. About 1,000 of mine @AHMalcolm were exterminated Wednesday afternoon. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
“Shadowy” is journalism libel code for bad guys. The major corporate culprits in question are Devumi and its act-alike brethren who sell fake followers and engagements on an array of social media platforms including Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.
Never eager to miss a hot opportunity for publicity, now two U.S. senators and a couple of state prosecutors are looking into this business of marketing fake fame. Maybe someday they’ll probe undeserved fame.
Bottom line, though, who cares really?
But just in case, please know those fake fans outside my home were in another country and the statute of limitations has expired on party pranks.