Badshah’s confession over buying fake followers: Here’s how celebrity image manipulation works on social media

Celebrities hire PR firms and pay them huge money for internet fame. It is then expected that the firms will have stories printed in newspapers and magazines that are favourable to the celebrities

Badshah’s confession over buying fake followers: Here’s how celebrity image manipulation works on social media
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Kartikey Sehgal

The Sushant Singh Rajput ‘death’ case, and the recent issue of a celebrity ‘buying’ internet followers, has brought to focus the world of public relations (PR).

Though it is not the same as advertising, let us presently limit ourselves to a specific aspect of PR – social media fame and approval.

Celebrities hire PR firms and pay them huge money for internet fame. It is then expected that the firms will have stories printed in newspapers and magazines that are favourable to the celebrities. More importantly today, it is desired that the PR firm gets likes and followers on the internet for their celebrity client.

PR firms use the help of anonymous internet users to make their celebrity famous. Often this user is a single person. Let me explain:

Say, a PR firm hires a smaller firm, or some individuals, to make Celebrity X ‘internet famous’. This individual will then create multiple accounts on sites like Reddit, Instagram and Facebook. He or she will then ‘not’ write about the clebrity at all!

Indeed, this individual will work like a sleeper cell. At least for some time, his/ her postings will be about anything but films – fashion, nature, football, cricket... any topic under the sun. The idea is to build – credibility – and gain followers/ friends with actual accounts.

Have you ever wondered why you get friendship requests or follow requests from people you don’t know? This is one reason. These are PR people who want to use you to build credibility for themselves. They will even like and share your posts and make ‘innocent’ connection with you in the ‘private messages’ section. And they will want nothing from you. Let’s address these individuals as ‘The Plants’.

Two to three months later, The Plants will finally begin writing about Celebrity X and use their account for his publicity. They will, however, not stop writing about other topics or even other celebrities who pose no threat to Celebrity X. Remember, credibility is essential and they can’t be exposed as plants.

Furthermore, if they get followers and fame themselves, they may even reveal their photo for further credibility. Else they can photoshop a set of images to create a new person altogether. This itself costs many thousands (at the least), and though I have not seen this aspect for myself, I have heard about it from marketeers.

Let’s stop here and address a quick question you might have – what if the celebrity can’t wait for two to three months, and wants immediate attention?

In that case, the PR firm spends money on influencers and minor celebrities to make favouable posts about Celebrity X. Influencers are accounts that have many followers, usually in many thousands. Leave them aside. Even accounts with a few thousand followers will be given money to ‘naturally’ talk about Celebrity X. The money can be as low as a few hundred rupees. It is easy money and one just has to make a post or a story – no hard work involved (the firm does that for you).

Meanwhile, The Plants have establish credibility on social media websites, and they are working on the long-term interest of the celebrity. What if there is a sudden controversy?

The Plants will not defend the actor if the public mood is against them. They will express regret, on the lines of - ‘I can’t believe Celebrity X can be like this. He is usually known as a genetleman. Disappointed!’.

The idea, once again, is to be genuine and then to wait... wait for the ‘dirty elements’ to show up. These dirty elements are internet posters who will spew hate on Celebrity X – even attack his family/child etc.

To which the plants will react thus - ‘Okay this is taking things too far. Although Celebrity X made a mistake, I think we are being indecent... overreacting... sorry I can’t be a party to this hate...’.

Of course, not known to you, the ‘dirty element’ poster is also a PR plant. He/ she is meant to make the criticism sound so ridiculous that people begin defending the celebrity. No way will actual fans relate to the hate he throws at Celebrity X, and will care for their own image. They will distance themselves from such posters and perhaps imagine the troubles Celebrity X must be facing.

This will lead to forgiveness or at least a renewed positive interest in Celebrity X. And just then the celebrity will do a public act of good, which will help him/ her back into the hearts of the internet users.

Meanwhile, you, dear readers, will be left participating in internet fights between two people that are often the same person. You will side with one plant against the other plant. The plants will be from the same PR company and it’s possible that – the same person using two different accounts that are shielded by premium VPNs (‘virtual private networks’ that protect your security).

And they will also joke with you and ask about your health. And often warn you about staying wary of dirty ‘PR people’.

I have vivid remembrances of a girl who managed eight such accounts across the internet. She would also ask about the health of her followers. In real life, she didn’t care much about her colleagues.

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