By Rachel Chan
In a competitive cyberworld of page views and virtual friends, some netizens have resorted to artificial methods to make themselves appear more popular, inflating the amount of Web traffic they receive and the number of Twitter followers and Facebook fans they have.
This, in turn, has made it increasingly difficult for some to ascertain which "fans" or "friends" are genuine or fake.
Such was the case when some netizens noticed that the number of "fans" who clicked "Like" on a Facebook page called PassportChop.com suddenly exploded from about 500 on March 29 to more than 11,000 less than three days later.
A curious netizen decided to investigate, clicking on the individual fan profiles and running Web addresses through information website Alexa.
Said the netizen, who prefers to be known as David: "Most of the fans are non-English-speaking, from regions such as Lithuania and eastern Europe."
Many of the Asian "fans" do not look real and appear to use stock photos from Getty Images as their profile pictures, he added.
Others had visited a get-paid-to-click site called proptc.com just before landing on the Facebook page, David said.
Back in September 2009, another netizen also exposed the eponymous blogger called PassportChop.
The netizen, Anonymous_X, noticed that a blog post on PassportChop.com had garnered 11 "pongs" for a post (http://anonymousxwrites. blogspot.com/2009/09/latest- ping-fraud-passportchop-his- army.html) and secured a place as the third-most-popular site in ping.sg within a day.
Anonymous_X then went on to allege that PassportChop had created 10 clones of himself to "ping" his post.
When contacted by my paper, the blogger denied the allegations.
"PassportChop.com is just a hobby we set up to share travel tips. We don't even profit from it (so) what's the point of faking the fans?
"We would prefer to just focus on sharing our experiences and ignore unnecessary trolling behaviour within the blogosphere," he said on Monday via a Facebook message.
Some online-contest junkies and other bloggers here are said to have inflated the number of online fans and friends they have.
And last month, United States R&B singer Rihanna's official Facebook page was outed for purchasing 100,000 fans from a media- solutions site at a cost of US$7,799 (S$9,400).
For a mere US$1 here, one can purchase 10,000 page views and, for less than S$200, one can have 500 Facebook fans.
One could also do it the hard but free-of-charge way, by creating multiple bogus user accounts.
Some social-networking site users here are doing the same, too, creating or buying fake Twitter followers and fake Facebook profiles to edge out the competition.
Their reasons for doing so are simple.
Fast-moving consumer- goods companies are jumping onto the social-media bandwagon, turning increasingly to the Internet to market their brand and products.
Said Ms Claudia Lim, 30, director of digital agency Dice Studio, which specialises in digital campaigns: "When clients embark on a digital campaign, the first thing they ask is: How many followers and page views does the influencer have?
"The number determines whether or not to engage a certain blogger, and how much he would get for advertising."
Thankfully, there are tools to help such agencies do due- diligence checks.
A very popular Facebook page can have up to 50,000 fans, while a highly influential Twitter account can realistically have 2,000 to 3,000 followers.
Examples are lifestyle bloggers Sparklette, ladyironchef and Xiaxue, she said.
Ultimately, however, creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts does not amount to fraud or Internet crime, Ms Lim said.
"Only a few black sheep do it, and it's possible to make sure that they do not get to participate in online campaigns."
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