Rene Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am,” but unlike Instagram user @3557.57273200, the philosopher didn’t follow Demi Lovato on Instagram under an oddly numerical username. If Descartes had been faced with the existential mindfuck of trying to ascertain whether an Instagram follower is real, perhaps he wouldn’t have spoken on the concept of existence with such conviction.
And to make this all even more confusing, @3557.57273200 is far from the only Instagram user who is possibly not real.
According to a report from international marketing agency Sortlist, Instagram user 57273200 (we’re assuming that’s the user's last name, even though an Ancestry.com search isn’t pulling up anything) is one of 31 million “suspicious accounts” that follows Lovato.
Now, you may be inclined to believe that 57273200 isn’t a real person, just as you may be inclined to believe that some of Lovato’s other followers including @indumentaria.frr are fake, but in defense of the North Texas pop artist, the report finds 85 million of Lovato's followers to be legit, and that’s more than four times that of President Joe Biden’s total Instagram followers (of which 2.1 million, according to Sortlist, are suspicious.)
Moreover, Lovato is far from the only verified Instagram account to have a considerable number of followers that are sus.
The Sortlist report found that another Dallas-based pop star, Selena Gomez, had more than twice the number of suspicious followers than that of her former Disney counterpart. Of Gomez’s 268 million Instagram followers, 67 million were found to be dubious.
And it’s not just Dallas-based pop stars that are guilty of having possibly non-human Instagram followers. Former President George W. Bush’s Instagram account has 1.5 million followers, and 19% of them were identified by Sortlist as quite possibly being as real as the weapons of mass destruction his administration insisted were possessed by Saddam Hussein.
The Dallas Cowboys have a similar ratio of credible/suspicious followers, with 82% of its 3.7 million followers seeming legit. Another Texas sports team, the Houston Rockets, has a lesser 75% of credible followers among a base of 5.3 million accounts.
In other Texas-related news, Sortlist’s data also revealed that Houston rapper Travis Scott’s 43.5 million followers include a potential 8.7 million suspicious accounts.
The report also lists data for the Instagram accounts of other celebrities, including Nicki Minaj, Simone Biles and Caitlyn Jenner. But just how incriminating are these revelations?
It’s well-documented that the prospect of obtaining millions of social media followers is so desirable that many influencers would resort to paying social media agencies top dollar to boost their follower count, even if through inorganic means.
This topic is explored in the HBO documentary Fake Famous, which exposes how the practice of harvesting followers manifests itself in ways as subtle as exaggerating an opulent lifestyle for clout to the more shameless method of simply buying followers.
While the latter move is heavily stigmatized in online and social media culture, the practice is still so in demand it can support its own cottage industry. One of the largest websites where social media users can purchase followers is Famoid.com, whose website boasts the service as being “The New Way of Becoming a Famous [sic].”
The grammatical error in the website’s slogan certainly raises red flags, but if reports are to be believed, the fake follower industry has more red flags than a Chinese embassy.
A more obscure company proliferating fake followers is one dubbed Devumi, which The New York Times described as a participant in “a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud.” Among the public figures The Times identified as having Devumi followers was another Texan, tech entrepreneur Michael Dell.
And it’s not difficult to understand why celebrities would resort to such measures. Social media drives their cachet, and with social currency being measured by followers, it behooves many people to spend actual currency on inflating public perception of their influence.
On the other hand, who among us hasn’t been followed by a suspicious bot account catfishing as Mia Khalifa and tagging 100 people in a post about discount sunglasses? Even complete nobodies get fake followers, and we sure as hell aren’t paying websites to get them.
And until we fully map out the family history of the 57273200s, we’ll never be sure if Lovato is either.