(CBS Local)– Social media influencers are a mainstay in our culture today and it seems that everyone these days is focused on how many likes a post gets and how many followers they have on each platform. Journalist Nick Bilton has been covering social media and technology for two decades and he decided to run a social experiment where he selected three random people in Los Angeles and turned them into influencers.
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Bilton’s experiment is the focus of a new HBO documentary called “Fake Famous” that follows around the three fake influencers named Dominique, Wylie and Chris. This was the first time Bilton had the opportunity to direct a film and he was fascinated by the different paths the three subjects took during this experiment.
“I’ve been writing about tech for 20 years and have started to do more and more work in Hollywood,” said Bilton, in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith. “I had written about bots and influencer culture and all these different things for 10 years. Instagram has 140 million people who have over 100,000 followers. What if we tried to make three more of them. Essentially what we did is took three random people in Los Angeles who had very small followings and I started to buy them fake followers, fake comments and fake likes. We wanted to see how their lives would change and they all took very different routes. It was really, really fascinating to see how that all turned out.”
The director used several bot services and he said there are some websites where you can spend $10 and get 10,000 bot followers. There are other websites where you have to spend $10,000 to get 10,000 followers. The price points are so different because you have to pay different sums of money for fake followers and fake followers that will interact with your content through advanced algorithms.
“I think if anyone were to do it, you could probably pull it off with a couple of thousand dollars,” said Bilton. “One of our subjects Dominique, we got her to around 340,000 followers and it didn’t really cost that much. The problem is once you start buying the bots, you have to buy the likes and the comments. I figured we’d take these three people and they would all become somewhat famous. One of them becomes essentially a famous influencer, starts getting tons of free stuff and her life changes as a result. Another one of the subjects, he freaks out. He totally panics and makes his account private. He goes down his own little rabbit hole of struggling with the anxiety of the likes, the bots and the numbers. The third one, this guy Chris, he essentially gets to a point where he realizes it’s all fake. People come to Los Angeles not to be an actor in a big movie, but instead to be an influencer. 87% of kids say they want to be a famous influencer.”
“Fake Famous” is streaming now on HBO and watch all of DJ Sixsmith’s interviews from “The Sit-Down” series here.