Even blue ticks can be faked on Instagram

The more Elysia Raphael researches Instagram, the more cracks she sees in its authenticity. Here, she asks: how can we tell what’s real anymore?

As a marketer and strategist, I’m constantly researching, testing, auditing, reviewing, testing. It’s what we do, and how to stay ahead in an ever-changing and competitive field.

I do it in all areas of my life – testing various strategies (read: opening lines) for my single friends on their Tinder profiles, or knowing which lane of traffic will move quicker.

I want to know how algorithms work and how collectively people work. Why when I a/b tested a client’s image, did 356 more people click the blue ad over the the green ad? Why do ‘average looking brown-haired women’ perform better on social media than men, blondes or models?

It was a miserable 14 degrees and raining weekend in Sydney. The kind where you only get out bed for a Halal snack pack… or is that just me? So instead of Netflix and comfort food, I curled up with my Mac and started to randomly research social media trends, updates, and Facestalk (it’s called research).

I Googled: “How do I verify an Instagram account?”. That little blue tick of approval is deemed to be harder to get than a Gold at the Olympics.

Sure enough, there were theories and articles galore, even a wikiHow with pictures. But nothing that stacked up as concrete information for me to get my client verified. Instagram basically chooses accounts at random that are likely to have copycat accounts (large corps and celebrities).

I then found an app that trumped all other apps for #Instafamous wannabes.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about the findings when I used an Instagram bot for 24 hours on my partner’s new business account.

I’d now found an app where you could overlay a fake verification tick onto your page and key in how many followers you wanted to portray.

I contacted a friend who recently started an Instagram account for her cat and within three minutes she sent me a screenshot which appeared to show she was verified, had 22K followers, was following 1,000 accounts and was armed with an account where she could potentially reach out to paying clients as an influencer.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping brands checking the live account. But this app is just one example amongst thousands, and they’re all out to game the system.

How can we trust a platform like Instagram when you can:

  • Buy 10,000 fake followers for AUD$10,
  • Use a free bot to follow a competitor’s list in the hope that you acquire some genuine followers back,
  • Use a free app to mass unfollow 200+ accounts at a time,
  • Program a bot to like certain hashtag, or accounts with x amount of followers,
  • Use a free app to get ‘verified’ and fake the numbers?

Instagram is starting to make changes, including tightening its API for data mining (thanks Cambridge Analytica scandal) and reporting insights through third party sites, including moves to eliminate pods that take advantage of the engagement algorithm, blocking spam hashtags e.g. #like4like, etc.

But while the recent Shopping for Instagram has helped businesses and marketers make something meaningful of the platform and finally generate some ROI, the army of bots and fake influencer accounts still roam free.

It seems near impossible for the ever-growing social media platform to gain street cred amongst those in the industry while the wool is pulled over small businesses’ and (some) inexperienced marketer’s eyes.

Elysia Raphael is director of marketing and ideas at NYX Social. This post first appeared on the NYX Social blog.


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