Celebrity chefs among those who purchased fake Twitter followers

Michael Symon & Paul Hollywood

In today's world, having a large social media following can provide leverage to land you a job or provide a steady income. If you are looking to write a cookbook, for example, publishers will want to see that you have thousands of people following you. Social media 'influencers' make money by promoting products to those who follow them.

It used to be that these followers grew organically, through friends of people who "liked" or "followed" someone, or by paying for a promoted post so more people would see your posts and perhaps take action. But more recently, people have been purchasing followers (usually bots), especially on Twitter, where the regulations against buying followers are rarely enforced. The New York Times just published an exposé on the practice, and noted that celebrity chefs were among those who purchased a large following

The article explained how the NYT could determine whether someone's followers were real people or purchased bots. The bots are usually based on the accounts of actual users, featuring photos and other information stolen from the real person's profile, with just a letter or two changed in the name. 

Chef Michael Symon, who has appeared on several Food Network programs and is a co-host of the daytime talk show The Chew, apparently bought about two-thirds of his 990,000+ followers on Twitter. Other celebrities have done the same, for various reasons. Sometimes they are brand ambassadors and need larger followings to promote products, while others are looking to climb up the fame ladder.

Chef Symon thought it would help promote his brand: "I thought it would drive traffic," he told the NYT. "I thought it was going to be influencers and people in my field. It's embarrassing." Paul Hollywood also appears to have purchased a large Twitter following. After the NYT contacted him to inquire about his followers, he deleted the account. 

The cost of buying followers can be incredibly cheap - as little as 1 cent each. That makes it tempting for people to buy tens of thousands of followers in one fell swoop. In some cases the celebrity, business leader, or sports star  makes the purchase or authorizes it, but many times a publicist or marketing person does it without asking permission. 

It's unclear whether all of the purchasers knew that they were buying bots using stolen personal information. One company selling social media followers, Devumi, advertises that they "only use promotion techniques that are Twitter approved so your account is never at risk of getting suspended or penalized," according to its  website, making it seem like these are legitimate followers. For the most part, however, people seemed to know that they were getting bots, but the pressure to build a large social media following prompted them to do it anyway. 

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